Date: Thu, 30 Apr 98 12:36:06 CDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: J. Pilger: South Africa: A Revolution Betrayed
/** labr.global: 298.0 **/
** Topic: S.A.Revolution Betrayed By J.Pilger **
** Written 10:54 PM Apr 29, 1998 by labornews in cdp:labr.global **
A revolution betrayed
By John Pilger, in the Electronic Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg, South Africa
24 April 1998
Freedom next time: If you have no home, no job and
no water within half a mile, it doesn't feel as
though anything much has changed
In the early morning sunlight a watchtower stands
silhouetted against Table Mountain; two ostriches stroll by
the gently rolling surf. Robben Island is a wildlife
sanctuary now, its bleak beauty and silence part of the
veneer of the new South Africa.
"Apparently that's the quarry where they worked," said the
Afrikaner helicopter pilot as he banked to land, unaware that
one of them was sitting next to him. Kathy looked down and
nodded, his dark glasses covering eyes permanently damaged by
the glare of the limestone where he and Nelson Mandela and
Walter Sisulu and other dangerous men wielded a pick year
upon year, decade upon decade.
"It was a bitterly cold winter's day in 1964 when the seven
of us were flown here," said Kathy, whose name is Ahmed
Kathrada. "We'd all been sentenced to life in the Rivonia
treason trial. I was 34 years old and the youngest and the
only non-African. I stood here and was issued with the
regulation shirt, jersey, canvas jacket, trousers, socks,
shoes. Mandela and the others were given short trousers, no
socks and as a special favour shoes instead of the rubber
type sandals normally given out to Africans.
"Even in winter; the rationale of apartheid was quite simple:
in South Africa, Africans were regarded as children. That's
still true. You'll find in whites' homes, they talk of their
garden boy and their kitchen girl."
A handsome, youthful man in his 60s, Kathy led me to his
cell, past the sign "We Serve With Pride", down the
battleship-grey corridors silent except for the sound of the
wind and the ocean. "This is it," he said, turning the key in
the door of what looked like a stone closet, 1,5m by 1,5m. "I
slept on that floor for the first 14 years. I had a raffia
mat and eventually a bookcase. When we were caught smuggling
Mandela's notes, our books were taken away and our studies
"For how long?"
"What did you miss most of all?" I asked.
"The presence and sound of children. When the warders brought
their families, we were made to turn our backs. That was
"How long were you in this cell?"
"Almost 18 years. And you know, they never switched off the
The struggle of people against
power, wrote Milan Kundera, "is
the struggle of memory against
forgetting". With the release of
Mandela in 1990, the spectacle
of people queuing to vote four
years later and the triumph of
the African National Congress,
the popular memory now struggles
to recall the years that those
like Kathy and Mandela endured
"South Africa had its own Final Solution," said Father
Michael Lapsley, an Anglican priest whose hands and one eye
were blown off by a security police letter bomb. "Under
apartheid, [the scale of the crime] was of genocidal
Like Josef Stalin, the Verwoerds and the Vorsters and the
Bothas "removed" up to a million people to a Gulag. They
wrenched families apart and denied life to the most
vulnerable. In his seminal book, The Discarded People,
published in 1970, Cosmas Desmond disclosed that more than
100 000 "removed" children starved to death in 1967 alone.
In that year 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
Here, suited officials, men of
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
expatriate 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.
There was the sight of black and white children together in a
nursery; and the bold, fluent black voices on SABC radio and
television; and the brilliant and brave Afrikaner and
journalist Max du Preez explaining to his white compatriots
that the Nazi genocidist Adolf Eichmann was also "just
ordinary" like them.
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.
I have never conducted interviews that began and ended with a
heart-swelling song by an impromptu choir: people who simply
came and stood and listened. "How beautifully they have
emerged from their nightmare," the great reporter Martha
Gellhorn told me on her return from her first visit, which
she spent in the townships.
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 - is 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.
The truth is that 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. For 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 in general. 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. For them, there is nothing new in the "new"
South Africa, apart from the shared discomfort of paranoia
and the acquisition of a new burglar alarm.
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. They do not all live in "Italinate" palaces, with
decorative fountains rising out of rolling lawns tended by
garden "boys"; and many do not conform to the stereotypes
lampooned, so often hypocritically, in Britain. (Those whites
who actively opposed apartheid are among the most attractive
people I have met.)
But enclaves like Sandton are apartheid's unchallenged
bastions, from which the 5% of the population control 88% of
the nation's wealth. This grotesque imbalance of power has
not changed since democracy and is not likely to. They, not
the majority, have been rewarded by democracy and
No longer "the polecats of the world", they can now travel
and play sport and do business wherever they like, protesting
that they, like good Germans, were never part of the system
and suffering, as David Beresford wrote, "a collective
delusion that they have done enough by 'allowing' majority
"And what do you think of South Africa?" is a question I
remember from 30 years ago. It is more guarded now, but just
as loaded: an invitation to share a view from "the white
man's windows", as Breyten Breytenbach wrote, "[which] are
painted white to keep the night in".
In a Sandton restaurant, a woman said, "You must understand
it's very difficult for young children here." She meant white
children. The rest, the 87% of African children who are in
poor health, the 38% who are stunted, the 23% who suffer
chronic malnutrition, do not exist. When I suggested that the
whites were fortunate, given their role in apartheid, to have
experienced such a peaceful transformation to democracy, she
said: "I don't know what you mean."
What they like to talk about is crime - not the great crime
of apartheid's genocide, but that which is "threatening
lifestyle", as one commentator wrote. Certainly, there is a
lot of crime in South Africa, mostly against property. Eighty
per cent of crime is confined to the black townships, where
several families live under one roof, often in appalling
conditions, and unemployment is as high as 70%.
The gangs in the Cape Flats are the sons and grandsons of
whole communities dumped there, in the shifting sand and wind
and heat, without hope. Moreover, there is now evidence that
organised crime mushroomed in the 1980s as a direct result of
state- sanctioned alliances with the security services.
To many white South Africans, "crime" is the euphemism for
the migration of impoverished, workless blacks across the old
racial dividing lines. In one sense, the issue is quite
useful to the corporate elite that controlled the economy
under apartheid and controls it now, for it reminds the
African National Congress government that it must discipline
those frustrated with the lack of change.
What is amazing to me is the degree of restraint exercised by
the majority, given the flaunting of wealth by a minority.
About 2,5km from Sandton, literally across a road, is
Alexandra. Half-a-million people live here, squeezed into a
square 2,5km. 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,
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
"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
For most of his life, Cosmas Desmond has been an independent
and eloquent voice of the homeless and landless, having
suffered arrest and banning by the apartheid regime; and he
continues to infuriate its successor by challenging the new
I asked him what had gone wrong. "The ANC was in exile for so
long, it was willing to accept power at any price," he said.
"It is considered blasphemous to say so, but Mandela seemed
never to spell out a vision for South Africa, not like a
Nehru or a Cabral. There is no political philosophy: it's
like candyfloss, all sweet and fluffy and lovely with a
spurious notion of `reconciliation' between those with
nothing and those with everything. The people who were the
power behind apartheid, the great corporations like Anglo
American, are still here, undiminished."
Before FW de Klerk announced the unbanning 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
The Americans, the British and the World Bank made it clear,
without spelling it out publically, 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, a "trickle down" to the majority
who effectively were to be shut out of the economy.
Deputy President Thabo Mkebi, 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". The surface could not be disturbed; 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 of South
Africa "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
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
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 PW Botha
was doomed, big business changed its allegiance to the ANC,
confident that its multinational interests would not be
obstructed as they "opened up" the South African economy 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 to me like cautious apartheid.
The Ministry of Finance remains in thrall to the orthodoxy of
globalisation; the Minister of Finance, 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 the "economic growth",
which Joseph Schumpeter, the doyen of Harvard economists once
described as "creative destruction".
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?
"I think the reason behind the ANC leadership going for the
International Monetary Fund approach is because they are
ashamed that most of the people live in the Third World,"
said the Africa analyst Peter Robbins. "They don't like to
think of themselves as being mostly an African-type economy.
So economic apartheid has replaced legal apartheid with
exactly the same consequences for exactly the same people,
yet it is greeted as one of the greatest achievements in
The social cost was stated plainly by Mary Metcalf, education
MEC in Gauteng. "The only benefit of the discredited system
we inherited," she wrote, "is the opportunities it
necessitates for radical change." 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 staffroom, no desks. "What is
difficult," she wrote, "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 with
a "Duff & Phelps credit rating
for foreign currency debt".
What has this to do with a
country where most of the
children are, as they say
compromised" and live in
What the ANC called its
"unbreakable promise" was the
Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). 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 a million-and-a-half houses would have to be built
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 ANC's 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 the 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.
This is the successor generation of the "discarded people"
Desmond wrote about 28 years ago. 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 earthern 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 the policy: "We are
housing redundant people [in Dimbaza]. These people could not
render productive service in an urban area."
Physically, Dimbaza is extraordinary. In the centre is a
children's cemetery. The graves are mostly of infants aged
younger than two. There are no headstones. There are plastic
toys among the weeds and the broken glass of shattered
flower-holders; emaciated cattle graze.
You trip over aluminium pipes embedded in pieces of broken
concrete. These were meant as headstones; on one is
scratched: "Dear Jack, aged 6 months, missed so bad, died 12
At least 500 children are buried here, or were. Mbalala told
me that in the 1970s heavy rains washed away many of them,
and little skeletons appeared at the bottom of the hill.
"There has never been the money to make something of this
sacred ground," said Mbalala.
During the late 1970s, the rural concentration camp became a
"showcase of investment opportunity". Cheap labour and
factories were laid out like a vast grandstand overlooking
the children's graveyard. Since then, most of them have
closed down and unemployment is now at 70%. Mbalala, the
survivor, lost his last job a year ago. One of the few
working factories overlooks the children's cemetery where, in
the brown grass between the graves, desperate men and women
wait in the hope of a few hours' work.
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" and staged a
"forum for the globalisation of South African business".
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
The tragedy is that there are immediate, practical
alternatives. If the government had 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.
Thabo Mbeki told me the problem of poverty was an "absolute
priority", but as far as I could deduce, he offered no
solution beyond dreams of a "trickle down" effect. He is said
to be an enigma. I found him, on the contrary, a
straightforward, charming and highly intelligent free market
Nelson Mandela is very different, and perhaps he is the
enigma. He repudiates his sainthood with characteristic
style. In response to the ignorant, fatuous, snobbish attack
on him by Brian Walden, he said: "When treated as an ordinary
human being one was prone to do fairly well in one's work. If
treated as a saint, one was likely to disappoint."
It seemed to me that his authority and reputation rested on
what he represented, rather than his politics. He has served
as a mighty symbol, calming and reassuring; this has been his
He also has the rare quality of grace; he makes people feel
good. "You must understand," he said when we met, "that to
have been banned from my country is a great honour." 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
Then he suddenly changed course and praised privatisation "as
the fundamental policy of this government", which was the
diametric 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 over night: 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
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,
More than 150 years ago the Chartists, the investors of
modern democracy, said that the vote had little meaning if
people's lives did not improve. It is five years since a wise
Nelson 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 ..."
-- Electronic Mail & Guardian, April 24, 1998.