Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 1-1994, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich

South Africa’s Sensational Turning Point
Statesmen of diverse skin colors choose a new people

World public opinion has a simple and clear concept of what’s going on in the Cape: democratization. This is supposed to be, first, a good thing and, second, a necessary thing. The whole world sees an advance of civilization when the “verkrampte [stubborn]” Boers finally sit down at the table with their blacks and extend the human right of a free and secret ballot to the black majority. The granting of universal suffrage is considered so undeniably good that the lifelong functionary of apartheid, de Klerk, is forgiven all the sins of the regime he served. World opinion thinks nothing of him, along with longstanding victim of apartheid and ANC leader, Nelson Mandela, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

How voting rights are supposed to be so good for the blacks: this the free world, to which the irresistibility of everything democratic has finally gone to the head, does not even want to know. At any rate, the advocates of “normalization” and “modernization” of this state don’t even claim that the material situation of blacks living in poverty would improve through elections and appointments of black politicians to state offices. Democracy itself is the value that has to matter — whether or not it is good for something else.

For democrats, the reasons why white racists in leading state positions become democrats all at once and give up white privilege are not puzzling: ill-gotten gains never prosper! The exclusion of blacks from having a say in politics could not go well, at least not for long and no longer than one hundred years. From the turning point in South Africa, the political observer infers the theory of the inevitability of democracy that he subscribes to anyway. He likes it. Despite the terror that accompanies these developments and the cost in victims — 18,000 deaths in the first nine months of 1993 — he considers them simply good, necessary, and normal.

Nothing in this is correct. It is not true that the racist oppression of blacks could not have continued; after all, no one sees any overthrow by the people, no takeover by victorious rebels. The “constitutional reform,” however, is also not only the exchange of one form of government by a more modern one, as suggested by the slogan of “democratization.” In South Africa, something rather unheard of is taking place: a revolution from above is abolishing the previous reason of state; the racist state is getting rid of its former ethnic basis and providing itself with a new people.

The extent of violence that gives rise to the transition to Nobel Prize–worthy circumstances already shows that there’s nothing “normal” in this and that the introduction of universal suffrage has nothing to do with an ordinary democratic transfer of power. South African political forces now have at each other at least as fiercely due to the “democratization process” as previously due to “racial discrimination.” The abolition of apartheid, which was to end the decades-long civil war, has done nothing of the kind, but rather placed a new civil war with new coalitions and new fronts on the agenda. Now, when a large part of the nation intends at all costs to prevent the political reform that the other part deems absolutely essential, then this shows that the foundations of an entire state are at stake.

The object of the dispute, apartheid, includes, after all, more than the question of universal free suffrage for all citizens. It is the organizing principle of a rule that refuses one part of the population the status of a constitutive, national people, in principal denying all subsequent rights and duties to this part while reserving them for another section of the population.

I. Apartheid — Mode of organization and results of the racist state

Sorting the population into a white national people and a black non-people

South Africa was the first country in Africa in which colonial rule came to an end. However, the colonized natives did not shake off the foreign rule of the British “mother country”; instead, it was Britain that in 1910 released the Boer republics of Transvaal and Orange Free State, first subjugated a few years earlier, together with the previously conquered Cape Colony and Natal into the Union of South Africa, self-governed by the white colonists. In their framework, the Boers, who formed the majority of the white population, continued colonialism on their own account. Apartheid — “separate development” — was the answer of the Boer National Party, ruling from 1948 on, to decolonization, which after the Second World War gave birth in Africa to independent states with black leaders and a black national people. Throughout the colonial period, the black people were kept without rights and treated as a human material either at the disposal of the European colonial powers and their governors, planters, and mine owners, or in their way and cleared out. Apartheid gave the exclusion of the black population from the white settler state the form and binding character of valid constitutional law. The separation of the races reproduced the distinction between colony and mother country within the colonies in southern Africa that became a state, but now, unlike colonial rule, in an explicitly racist manner. While in the Cape Colony, the right to vote was coupled with minimum property and minimum income requirements, and the vast majority of blacks were excluded from civil rights, not because of their skin color but due to their poverty, with the introduction of apartheid, the legal position of colonial masters and the objects of their rule was bound to politically defined races and the entire population of South Africa was sorted accordingly. The Population Registration Act of 1950 subjected all the individuals of the country to the legal status of White, Coloured (half-caste), Asian, or Black.

Only the whites formed the actual national people; the political power that was based on compulsory suffrage and military service for them was their instrument for controlling the non-white population. The master race restricted civil rights to its approximately five million members, while the almost 35 million blacks, coloreds and Asians were their subordinates and servants. As masters of the country, the whites reserved for themselves first and foremost the right to land: they partitioned the national territory into 87% white land and 13% black land. In the black areas, the homelands, they crammed together the black driven out of the white land, where they were used neither as domestics nor as laborers:

“Of the [1985] approximately 22 million blacks in the country, today only about 1.7 million have permanent resident status for narrowly defined zones in the 87% ‘white’ area, about 2/3 of whom were living there previously. Permanent residency is granted someone who either has lived legally from birth on in such zones or has been employed for ten years with an employer and can establish proof of adequate living space. In addition, there are about 1.3 million South African migrant workers with contracts of one year at a time.” (Südafrika, KB-Sonderheft 1985)

The “black” patches of land separated from each other by “white” areas and reserved for the black population were literally reservations: in order that they could fulfill their function of controlled warehousing of blacks, Pretoria funded their own police force and administration. The reserve land for holding the black people was declared to be common property, on which only blacks were allowed to settle, which was not available for business calculations, and therefore was not allowed to be leased or sold to businessmen by the homeland governors. Because this land — partly barren, partly depleted by overpopulation — provided no basis of livelihood for the black, herded-together masses, the law and order enforced by the police was supplemented by famine relief, a policy measure for maintaining order. In order that the blacks to be kept away from the white area were nevertheless available as a labor pool, recruitment was organized directly in the homeland. The appearance of a “distinctive” development supposedly corresponding to the different races was perfected by the fiction that the homelands involved territories that were self-managed by tribes defined as different black nations and gradually developing into sovereign states.

The blacks who worked temporarily or permanently in the “white” South Africa were also assigned to these homelands. The denial of RSA citizenship and the simultaneous awarding of citizenship in one of nine homelands completed the transformation of lack of rights into a legal status: formally, black citizens, too, had full rights of citizenship, but not in the Republic of South Africa (RSA), rather in one of the “Bantu republics” defined as foreign countries. The racist Boers were thus eager pupils of the civilized legislation regarding foreigners in Europe; just like foreign workers in Germany, blacks had only “guest worker” status in a white homeland and were thus tolerated only so long as they were employed by white businessmen and farmers as workers, by white households as domestic workers, or by the white state as army and police officers against their peers.

Political race-rule as an instrument of a particular capitalist class-rule

With their political sorting of the population, the white holders of political power and their supporters did not play the part of colonial “boss” and operated not only a colonial export economy, with tropical fruit and natural resources, but fostered the only successful national capitalism in Africa — and that’s not quite the same as the ruthless exploitation of the living and dead inventory of a colony for the wealth required by the motherland. First of all, South African public administrators had an interest in increasing wealth for South Africa, and therefore treated land and people as a source of a lasting national accumulation. Secondly, the largest owners and national capitalists were white, but that did not mean at all that all whites were capitalists. The economic significance of the political sorting according to race was therefore the separation within the class of those who served the growth of capital as wage-workers; this separation was the basis of South African capitalism.

Accordingly, the white state did not leave it to the labor market and land prices to decide which job applicant got their chance for success, who would go a long way and how far. It did not allow this competition in the first place, and restricted the blacks constitutionally, meaning by force, to the role of wage slaves and deprived them of domicile and civil rights. A privileged stratum of white wage-workers faced an army of black wage-slaves. The status of free wage-worker was a special privilege for whites. Thus the state distinguished its proletarian compatriots from the blacks where they shared with them a class position; they were favored with a preliminary political decision of economic competition: only they were granted the right to organize in unions and wrangle with capital over the price of labor; only for them were the better jobs in the hierarchy of the workplace reserved (job reservation); whites did not have to let any non-whites move ahead as their superiors; they enjoyed a better education; social welfare institutions were reserved for them, etc. Blacks, on the other hand, had no freedom of contract, no right to strike; refusal to work, i.e., breach of contract, was for blacks not a dispute with the other party to the contract according to civil law, but a criminal offense. Blacks were allowed to apply for work in the white area, where a varying number of them were used in the service of profit, only by special government permit. They received annual licenses and were shipped back to their homeland if no demand existed for them, when they were sick or old, or did something wrong. Hence in all cases of uselessness, they were simply cast aside and, in this way, the misery necessarily associated with wage-labor — unemployment, old age, disease — was held at bay from white businessmen and the South African state. No costs were incurred for this; the wage was not calculated to be able to make any provision for such cases. The remuneration that was paid to migrant workers away from home did not have to suffice for financing family and offspring (who of course lived in the homeland) or for keeping the wage earners themselves fit to work long term. In fact, the supply of migrant workers was not threatened by the ruinous use of blacks and their underpayment: more poor wretches than demanded were always waiting for permission to work, not only from the South African reservations, but also from all the neighboring states. The capitalism of the white racists was, and still is, a magnet for the whole of southern Africa: only here was and is there any work and money at all for uprooted masses.

The racist sorting within the working class gave the country a European wage level for the higher positions reserved for whites and at the same time a third-world level of payment for the black wage-slaves. The fundamental pre-sorting of the wage relation along the lines of skin color makes the blacks not only the lower-paid part of a national working class, but defines a minimum wage-worker status just for them. Conversely, the wage-labor relation of whites, with its institutionalized competitive privileges, appears like a bit of participation of white workers in the profits white companies realize by exploiting blacks.

II. The system of apartheid has created its enemy, the African National Congress

The racial sorting has politicized the blacks and split their representatives along political lines. Some, as homeland administrators and black overseers, have taken over the functions that the racist state had planned for sorting its black people. They have — indifferently to the plight of the black masses — taken part in the power of the whites and made traditional tribal leaderships productive for it. The others have represented the suppressed rights of the blacks against the white state and sued for their rights as a fully-fledged people. To counter the expulsion and exploitation of the blacks, they have assumed the task of defending themselves, above all else, from their political exclusion from power, and organized themselves in the ANC as a political movement against white injustice.

In the 1950’s, when the ANC protested against the imposition of apartheid policies with civil rights campaigns following the example of Gandhi, the state ruthlessly smashed the demonstrations of civil disobedience with force of arms, and banned the ANC as a terrorist organization. The ANC responded to this persecution by the white state with a call for violent resistance. The irreconcilability of the South African reason of state with the longing of blacks for civil rights and a rule they could support was thereby sealed by the programs of both sides. Regardless of whether the ANC intended from the beginning to be more than a black civil rights organization, it was so because — unlike, for example, in the U.S. — the fundamental legal and political equality of all citizens was not at all included in the construction of the state; on the contrary, it was intended to be excluded. With its program, the ANC was, therefore, subversive vis-à-vis the state, got to feel this from state power, and hence also saw themselves the other way round as an anti-colonial liberation movement that, as in the rest of Africa, wanted to bring blacks to power in the white stronghold.[1]

With its civil war against white rule, the ANC was not without effect, even if it never remotely got to the point of disempowering it. It gave white rule a permanent, fundamental, and extensive internal order problem that the state had to confront. The notion that blacks did not basically belong to the white republic was, of course, only the existential lie of the Boer Republic, according to which both races were able and supposed to develop separately in accordance with allegedly racially determined characteristics. In reality, however, the wealth of the white state was based on the use of those legally excluded. The white economy and state were, therefore, also dependent on the black wage-slaves to whom they denied civil rights; they had to rely on the blacks being reliably available to meet the needs of business and not lastingly disturbing the continued existence of the internal order indispensable for business life. Though continually clearing away the blacks and keeping them away from places of power was possible, more was at stake. Hence the ANC, with its continual protests and its calls for noncompliance, constituted a subversive political force and therefore provoked ongoing civil war–style reactions from the state, but never weakened the resolve to try and develop apartheid in accordance with the interest in a use of, and simultaneous control over, the black masses, free of all considerations, into the most trouble-free system.

III. Consolidation and reform of apartheid

For that reason, the history of apartheid is the history of its continual consolidation and its continual reform: since the white state didn’t intend for the blacks — who it herded into reservations and had under control — to be left to the state itself, but rather to be available to its capitalists as a cheap source of profits, it allowed and organized the recruitment and settlement of more and more blacks in the “white” area. At the same time, they were supposed to be separated from the whites there just as reliably and to live under reliable guardianship, which is why the state more or less barracked the millions of black workers who were involved in the “white” economy in specific areas within the white region: the townships. Since the blacks, in the performance of their desired services, could also not avoid staying in the cities reserved for the whites, the state refined the “grand apartheid” of separate “states” and the “middle apartheid” of separate residential areas to the “petty apartheid” of racially separate restaurants, buses, park benches, etc. With this and the prohibition of “miscegenation,” it turned apartheid, down to the private lives of its multicolored citizens, into a moral obligation, without this having been indispensable for the political-economic function of apartheid.[2]

The capitalists in South Africa, just as their foreign class brothers, appreciated the opportunity to set wages and working conditions without regard to trade unions as a special offer, which the South African state secured for them through its racist sorting. As long as the violence of the South American state held down the black wage-slaves, the capitalists felt no need for unions, and as long as the number of white preferential workers sufficed to fill the jobs reserved for them, they kept with job reservation. Only when the unrest in the factories and mines increased to the point of threatening businesses did they remember the well-known European and American advantage of trade unions as an instrument of controlled, business-friendly settlement of labor disputes.[3] From then on, they cared little about legal restrictions like job reservation and the prohibition of black workers’ representatives when it served their business interests. Against the resistance of white workers, they broke through job reservation and, at one point, recognized black trade unions as negotiating partners, which were still being persecuted by the state as subdivisions of the “terrorist groups” ANC, PAC, etc. So also in the field of labor law, there was a permanent need for reform, as the immediate replacement of striking workers might occasionally work as a deterrent measure, but at the same time interfered with the profitability of South African factories, and the continuing unrest among black workers threw South Africa as a whole into question as sphere of investment for foreign capital.

Each new form of segregation of blacks from the white master race, each new form of controlled use of other-colored people created ever new tasks and costs for the state in its permanent war to exclude the vast majority of the population on its territory and gave new fuel to the dissatisfaction of blacks and their political struggle. The response of the white state to the struggle against white autocracy was firstly the prosecution of the ANC and other banned organizations as groups of terrorists and political criminals and the designation of the fight against its internal enemy as part of the global front against communism. Conversely, through the criminalization and suppression of all protest and resistance by those sorted out, the blacks really became what they were in the eyes of the whites anyway: enemies of the white order and a sole, threatening trouble spot.

Secondly, the state tried to exploit the differences within the political representation of blacks and divide their struggle by holding out the prospect of “accommodation” with political “moderation,” as well as offering self-government in the townships and authorizing non-political trade unions that espoused social peace. The petty apartheid was partly dismantled to maintain the grand one.

So the RSA certainly had always to expend a portion of the wealth and power apparatus of the nation for the enforcement of apartheid. But what does that really mean when the organization of the national production of wealth and the whole raison d’état is based on the exclusion of blacks. The unshakable, core policy doctrine of white rule involved the necessity of oppression for the control of the exploited black people. In celebration of the great battles of the “Voortrekkers” of past centuries to slaughter the “Kaffirs,” the Boer nation, led by the parsons of their racially pure, white church, reminded themselves that their Calvinist God is a mighty fortress and has given their enemies into their hands. The Boers had always cleared away obstacles on the road to national success; they proudly named city, province, and river after bloodbaths that their ancestors carried out among the “Kaffirs” in their trek through the “deserted” country promised them by their white god.

And the rulers also had no reason to doubt the nation’s path because the nation’s success was obvious. The racism of apartheid and the anti-communist struggle against black liberation efforts to which the stubborn Boers had devoted themselves were the right policies by which South Africa became a full-fledged state and recognized partner in the Western camp: with its nearly limitless disposal over cheap, black labor brought about through political power, the Republic of South Africa established a capitalist national economy of considerable size, with a functional national money, international conglomerates, particularly in the area of raw material, gold, and diamond production, a developed national business world, an exportable agriculture, and — not least — a functioning armaments production. In addition, it rose to absolute regional supremacy on the basis of its capacities and made all African countries south of the equator its hinterland: on the one hand with economic means, as long as they were colonies, and so far as they then, as in the countries “granted independence,” decidedly oriented themselves to the West and did not call their economic and political dependencies into question; on the other hand by decisive opposition with Africa’s most capable army — including nuclear bomb potential — insofar as black Africa threatened to fall into the wrong camp. From 1960 to 1990, the RSA had a substantial influence on the decolonization of Southern Africa and especially made of Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique a bloody example of their power and their responsibility for the correct sorting of the states within their sphere of influence.

IV. The crisis turning point: The divergence of a racist state program from imperialist success

This path to success in South Africa, however, fell increasingly into crisis. The end of the Cold War — not just the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991, but its prior withdrawal from world politics in the 80s — brought to light a condition for South African success to which the RSA could easily blind itself in the years of its success. Though the role of this country — which was never a third world country, but rather aimed for regional, if not quite continental supremacy — came about through the deployment of South African resources and military power, its imperial success was not based solely on them. It was a success allowed and tolerated on the part of the real great powers, and that became clear as soon as this tolerance and the alignment of interests that were never identical lapsed. The racist Boer Republic is, in fact, a victim of the Western victory over the Soviet Union and the end of its global struggle for an anti-Communist front, but in quite a different sense than is meant by the triumphal cheer for the worldwide victory of democracy that is now due to reach the southern tip of Africa. As long as the important thing was to wrest influence from the Soviet Union everywhere, so also in Africa, and to punish partners it had found for making the wrong choice, the supreme members of NATO readily put up with equating racist suppression and the South African fight against its own blacks and against the decolonized “frontline states,” which made themselves available as a retreat for the ANC, with their “fight against communism.” The “frontline states,” which had emerged from anticolonial liberation movements, had certainly approached Moscow and Cuba for help against the old colonial powers, had their political elites get training in the East, and had committed themselves to construct an “African socialism” and, in foreign policy, to support the ANC’s struggle against the internal colonialism of the RSA. But the more the Soviet Union withdrew from Africa and the Eastern Bloc fell apart, the greater the military operations of the RSA appeared to the U.S. and Europe as high-handed acts and as disruptive competition to the influence of world powers actually entitled to have some.

To the degree to which the South African regional imperialism no longer served Western world domination, the guardians of liberty, equality, and private property put into action the caveat that was always there from the standpoint of democracy against the internal constitution of their South African partner, and that provided the diplomatic material for building up official relations with South Africa and the black states: modern rule, which the U.S. spread all over the world after its victory in the Second World War, is committed to human equality and the right of peoples to self-government. The West could live perfectly well with the internal and external South African breach of this principle as long as it served its interests. This state program was really contested as soon as South Africa’s ambitions got in the way of the main Western powers’ control of Africa. All at once, the main powers of the West put into action against the racist state an ancient UN trade boycott that had had little effect up till then, cancelled military-political cooperation, imposed an arms boycott, etc.

That caused South Africa sustained damage, its industry and agriculture lost markets, foreign capital withdrew from the country — the U.S. forced American companies even by law to separate from South African partners or subsidiaries. No capitalism can tolerate being excluded from the global market — not even a semi-colonial one. The RSA plunged into the deepest economic crisis in its history and still today — a decade later — has not come out of it. And not only that: as far as the imperialism of this country is concerned, South Africa could not reap the fruits of its military assertion in the region. Rather than making its long-fought neighbors submissive and subservient, or annexing them, as it long sought to do with Namibia, it lost influence on the frontline states, which, after losing support from the East, approached the main powers of the West for help against the RSA. Though South Africa could bomb its neighbors into the arms of the West, it could not permanently orient them toward itself by militarily means. The destabilizing influence of South Africa, which was earlier readily seen to be preventing the consolidation of leftist regimes, was ultimately judged vis-à-vis the supremacy of the West as a hostile act, as it was aimed at disrupting the peace overtures with which the Western powers now attempted to induce the rebels — that they had once promoted and stirred up against leftist governments — to abandon their civil war that had become meaningless from the standpoint of global politics, and to politically integrate them (Angola, Mozambique).

Only with the failure of foreign policy — the loss of its partners in the West, the loss of an African zone of influence and its economic use — did the unending civil war and economic collapse add up to a broader crisis of the nation, which shattered the dogmatism of the old national path to success. It wasn’t a bad conscience about their treatment of the black people in violation of human rights, nor any anti-racist UN Resolution, that led the white statesmen in Pretoria to rethink their views, but rather the failure of South Africa, in the circle of Western world-market nations and world powers, as an ever-rising, outreaching imperialist regional power accumulating ever more national wealth: in other words, the collapse of its racist state program and imperialist goals and prospects in the face of a changed world situation. The supposedly so unteachable Boers learned from that. Aside from moral minorities or multinationals oriented toward the world economy, nobody wanted to, or could, distinguish between the benefits that the racial order secured for the white masters, and the success of the South African state. The National Party, which in the “good years” stood for the indistinguishability of both viewpoints, was confronted with the difference by the national crisis, by the faltering growth of capital and foreign policy failures. The Boers were, after all, with all their racism, representatives of a national awakening that could never again be translated back to the program of the private enrichment of a privileged caste and the securing of the colonial power of white masters. They were nationalists enough that, in the crisis, the equation on which the RSA was based, the equation of a racist state constitution with economic success, national power with influence abroad, became questionable for them — and nationalists enough not to lower their sights from the prospect of becoming a further rising power within the new world order. They would sooner abandon their racist dogmatism and radically commit themselves to the program of restoring harmony with the imperialist powers, and thereby regain the freedom to engage in global political activity. In the interests of the nation, they have therefore taken from the crisis the necessity of questioning the adequacy for the state of its program of ‘rule by and for whites’ and thereby separated for the first time between the two: it is not what the whites have from apartheid, but rather what the power of the state has from of it that counts. For the first time, they considered as a means to success the internal organization that has made up the Boer state and, because of the crisis, placed in doubt its suitability for a national purpose distinct from it. The old racism no longer paid off for the imperialist ambitions of the nation — with that, their white statesmen would sooner give up their internal political order than external influence.

De Klerk and his reformers have thus taken stock of the dimension of regional power that the RSA achieved in the Cold War and have, for that very reason, forced themselves — the other way around as before, and just as dogmatically — to view the entire internal structure of the state now as a barrier to external success. So much so, that they have discerned a causal relation between apartheid and foreign policy setbacks: as dogmatically as they, up till yesterday, traced all success back to their special South African constitution and the successful self-assertion of its national people in power, hence also considered the fight against blacks to be indispensable, this fight now appears to them, conversely, as the key reason for South Africa ever getting into a crisis.

V. Idealism and realism of a new national foundation

The proposed program

Since then, South Africa’s white rule, even in the eyes of its former top representatives, is no longer the seal of quality of a country that, though forced constantly to defend itself, is still a successful and evolving powerful country, but rather the big problem of an unfinished nation, because of impediments in addressing the difficult national situation, in gathering its actually existing internal forces and recovering its external position — in short, the all-important obstacle of its due progress. Since then, de Klerk has discarded the “separate development of races” as a “dead end of isolation” and hopes that the constitutional reform will forestall the “threat of marginalization of South Africa” — as if the Western world powers really only wanted to punish the RSA because of its bad internal habits and had not driven back its influence in southern Africa as competing imperialists, because they claim control over it themselves. The cool racists, who could only smile at the moral appeals of the United Nations, no longer wish to distinguish at all between imperialist interests and moral legal titles, and now admit that the foreign accusations are right. That is to say, they themselves believe in the national advantage that — by the standards of successful nations — arises out of normal democratic conditions. Therefore, they now see South Africa as an unfinished nation, and want to reform it up into an internally unified country, thereby capable of acting externally once again.

De Klerk and his reformers have imagined this so well that, in retrospect, they no longer understand how they ever could find it advantageous to drive out the blacks, to suppress them, and exclude them from participating in the state. As if the monopolization of the country, its mineral wealth and agricultural productivity, the disenfranchisement of blacks and their use as virtually costless slave laborers were not the secret of success of white progress from colonists to capitalists, apartheid is now regarded by the reformers, no longer as the national program, but only as the particular interest of whites — one that has unnecessarily “alienated the blacks from the nation.” The reformers hold by the standpoint that they would only have to give blacks the right to vote and they would then not only be reconciled with the nation, but would also with their legally equal, cheap labor constitute an economic basis of South African capitalism at least as profitable as they have been by means of apartheid. They make “democracy” a national productive force:

“Asked about his vision of South Africa in three or five years, President de Klerk answered ‘that it will be a prosperous country, that it will be a stable country, … that it will have a good constitution based on the democratic and economic values on which the successful democracies and the successful economic systems around the world are built.’” (RSA 2000—The Way Forward, 3/92)

The resolution of the internal front, the termination of the rebellion and civil war — which while not able to overthrow the state cannot be stopped either — is supposed to steer the capacities of the nation again toward economic progress and, secondly, sweep away the obstacle to prosperous relations with the near and far abroad. By eliminating the reason for hostility, South Africa’s attractiveness as a developed capitalist economy is supposed to stand out from its neighbors and its supremacy gain it reliable influence in a new way, not confrontational, but cooperative. What is intended is not only a normalization of relations with African states, but entirely new political business connections beyond regional dimensions:

“In India, Foreign Minister Botha, after the establishment of diplomatic relations, has commenced negotiations on the creation of a trade bloc of Indian Ocean states patterned after the European Union and the North American Free Trade zone.” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, November 21, 1993)

These are the prospects for a new departure for which de Klerk intends to expand the basis of the state, i.e., to make the vast majority of blacks citizens and thereby assure their loyalty. For this, he is relying on the statesmanlike qualities of the old public enemy number one: the ANC, led by Nelson Mandela. With the holding of democratic elections under majority rule, the former white statesmen in power are handing over the power of the state to him and his followers. The ANC is thus achieving what it wanted to achieve for forty years: state power in black hands. With this, however, the ruling Boers, who are giving up the former white monopoly on power, intend to make all the conditions that underlie this power and that have been arranged by them finally undeniably and permanently stable and hence able to work. In order that things will turn out like the usual change of representatives of power in democracies, and not a coup — which the reformers not unjustly fear — de Klerk is trying to hammer out the constitution of the state, particularly the ownership of property, before general elections and as a condition of their approval. The idea is that, then, the incorporation of blacks can only benefit the nation.

The reality of democracy: A revolution from above and a potential civil war situation

De Klerk’s revolution from above pretends that a national leadership could commit itself to a new national basis — and even already had one. The truth is the opposite: the leadership is terminating its previous state people, abolishing their former basis, and giving up the disposal their monopoly secures over all the instruments of power and control of the apparatus of state. These no longer function as reliable means of power if the existing power structure and the reasons of state it secures are no longer certain. The leadership is learning from the hostility it meets from its old white supporters that it is not just proscribing a change of personnel at the top reaches of the state, but a new raison d’état. It has first and foremost removed the existing basis of the state: it is presenting the reasons of state to a still not uniformly constituted people for consideration, exposing its force monopoly to the verdict of its formerly racially sorted subjects, condemning the existing state people to the status of a hopelessly inferior minority, thereby providing the state force monopoly with a new opponent, and, finally, exposing the apparatus of state and the military to the test of loyalty to a state whose continued existence and organization is questionable.

The transformation of supporters of the old state into terrorists and problematic cases

The new state is cutting off, not only all possible privileges of the whites, but also its all-important political basis: the status of being the sole national people. As of now, they have not only to face, insofar as they are proletarians, free competition with the mass of black workers. The master race sees itself placed on the same broad political footing with the “Kaffir” and, in the future, subject to a predominantly “black” authority. One section of whites, which is not ready to place national needs over its traditional special status, is arming itself and threatening “total war” (Eugène Terre’Blanche, leader of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich, February 7, 1994). Because the reason of state is up for consideration, these citizens take their old rights into their own hands. No sooner does it come to the question of power, even the unified continued existence and borders of the State of South Africa are not secure anymore: racists, who now insist the other way around on “separate development,” demand as an alternative to unnatural racial mixing the break-up of South African territory: they want to build an all-white “people’s state” in the old core area of the Boers. The fact that they want to set up white rule all over again on a smaller scale, and do not insist on restoring good old apartheid, reveals how much they themselves hold developments to be irreversible.

But there is not only a white interest in apartheid. “Separate development” has courted African “nations,” both discovered ones and those invented for the first time, and on this basis procured many sources of power and money that are now being challenged: black Homeland chiefs are resisting the threat of role dispossession in a unified, mixed-race South Africa. Bophuthatswana insists on the existing legal fiction that it is an independent state. With the slogan of “regional autonomy,” Zulu chief Buthelezi claims sovereign rights in KwaZulu and Natal that any Western democracy would fight as separatism. To enforce his claims, he is using his royal lineage and the tribal affiliations of his subjects, banking on the racism among the blacks and inciting his Inkatha party to tribal war against the ANC’s political organization, which he passes off as the party of the Xhosa tribe.

Black separatism has allied itself with white Negro-haters in a “Freedom Alliance,” which walked out of the Multiparty Negotiating Forum on the transition to democracy, and intends to boycott scheduled elections if their demands are not met in advance and openly threatens civil war.

The transformation of yesterday’s terrorists into a state-supporting force

The reformers of the National Party, who are abandoning the old basis of their state — and thereby not only the loyalty of a portion of the white minority, but all national functioning that depended on apartheid — believe they have to do without this in view of the national crisis situation. And they believe they can do without it because they are exchanging it for a better one, that is, basically just decisively expanding it. They act as if the state already had a new, reliable, and unified people, just because the state is now committed to it and wants to be reconstituted accordingly. But this hardly cozy relationship between the black people and the political power, which is described with such positive slogans as emancipation, democracy and equality, is not at all given. It must, like the suppression of the enemies of state restructuring, first be set in motion, and is necessarily turning out for all parties involved rather differently than they expect, or at least hope. In this respect, it is also not at all yet clear whether the ANC, starting as a black movement, is bringing off the trick that the white movement and black beneficiaries of the old rule don’t want to bring themselves to do — namely, to explain to their followers that they are as of now to regard themselves as part of a common, inseparable, and thus suddenly no longer racially distinguished people, whether or not they want that and can do that at all without further ado. So it is also questionable whether the new — black — popular majority is subjectively and objectively suitable for a national people of a new South Africa: subjectively, whether the blacks at all regard the mixed-race state as “their own”; objectively, whether an emancipated black population authorized to enter competition is at all suitable as the basis of a flourishing South African capitalism, or whether its dispute over wages and working conditions, to which it invariably feels entitled, doesn’t rather really call into question previously reliable business conditions.

The political sense of the ANC

Nevertheless, it is the old public enemy fought for forty years, the ANC, that has the greatest advantage, because it is the staunchest representative of the program to carry out a change of power as peacefully as possible, as smoothly as possible, because as inconsequential as possible for all the crucial foundations of the state. De Klerk wants to make it a partner in the fight against the old state apparatus and against the political interests of whites dependent on the old regime and supporting it up till now — even at the sure price that the future president is called Mandela. In return, the representation of the black majority is to ensure that the South African state can be based on the consent of the black majority — and otherwise leave everything else the same. For that reason, the whites are placing a condition on black representation for permission to take part in the state: the ANC must take the standpoint of an expanded, pan-South African capitalism. The Multiparty Negotiating Forum preceding the elections for drafting a new constitution was a test of Mandela’s willingness to prescribe to his base the same selfless allegiance as de Klerk to his. If de Klerk is willing to give up white rule and white benefit on behalf of the nation, so also should the leader of the black uprising act only as a South African national politician, give up the belief in the benefit he had promised from the elimination of racial oppression and cure his followers of it, too. The ANC is so keen on taking responsibility for the nation and the overcoming of white rule this represents that it is for the most part ready and willing to do this. It sees itself attaining its goal of coming to power, and in contrast to all other African countries, to power in a successful state — i.e., it translates its old battle promises into the new state requirements, which the possession of power demands. One hears no more from “statesman” Mandela that a black insurrectionist movement might have wanted to break white rule in order to use political power for the benefit of its miserable black supporters. If he is allowed to be president, then president of all South Africans and in the interests of South Africa:

“The difficult social and economic problems in South Africa can only be solved by the various parties jointly. This is not just about the problems of blacks, but also that of the Coloureds, Indians, and whites. We believe that South Africa’s entire population must be mobilized for this immense task of reconstruction. And only a government of national unity can do that.” (Mandela interviewed in Der Spiegel 47/1993, p. 173 f.)

For its democratic bid for power, it is also willing to ensure whites a share of power and the continuity of the white state apparatus, regardless of the outcome of free elections:

“In November (1992) the ANC officially adopted a document calling for possible power-sharing with the National Party. The paper entitled ‘Strategic Perspectives’ represents a pragmatic step towards democratization, which also foresees the necessity of a general amnesty for the security forces and a guarantee of employment for the civil service.” (Internationales Afrikaforum 1992, p. 39)

As opposed to people who don’t fit peacefully into this joint effort, Mandela has conversely offered his organization as a force for law and order for the state:

Mandela: We do not believe that the problems can be solved by force, and we will do our best to convince all political forces to take the path of peace. But of course we reserve the right to take other measures…

Der Spiegel: … therefore to apply force, and if necessary to impose a state of emergency?

Mandela: If all attempts at persuasion come to nothing, then we — in consultation with other political parties — will react accordingly. (Der Spiegel 47/93, p. 175)

The suspicion, as regards the national economy, that the ANC would wrongly handle the political power that is to devolve to it, is being dispelled to the best of its ability. Previously cultivated controversial words that suggest a primacy of popular benefit over the “inherent laws of the economy” are corrected:

“The change that the ANC has now officially carried out in its economic policy was incorporated in a positive manner. In a preparatory document for the ANC conference at the end of May, the organization rejected for the first time the previously demanded nationalization of the economy in favor of a mixed system. The word “socialism” no longer occurs in the paper. … A seizure of property in the public interest will be possible only on the basis of law and with compensation.” (Internationales Afrikaforum 1992, p. 148)

Included in the economic sense of a future black government is, above all, the fact that it is aware of the economic dependence of the South African capitalism it intends to inherit:

“Mandela assured foreign investors of protection and equal treatment with domestic companies. Foreigners can be sure that they can continue to transfer profits — after tax — from their South African branches to their home countries.” (Frankfurter Rundschau, August 10, 1993)

With regard to the material expectations of his black base, which Mandela does not quite want to forget right away, he knows about the correct order: first, the capitalists have to make profits, so that then the poor devils can be used and paid for its accumulation:

“In talks with French head-of-state Mitterrand, Mandela advocated the view that a democratically led South Africa had to rely on a market economy to provide new opportunities for the impoverished population of South Africa.” (Internationales Afrikaforum 1992, p. 40)

The willingness of Mandela and the ANC leadership to assume power under the terms of the whites, i.e., to leave in essence everything as it is aside from the skin color of the president and the parliamentary majority, is therefore far advanced. They think, just as staunchly as their new white reform partners, entirely in the broader perspectives of a powerful capitalist nation.

The problem of the new black national people

It is by no means a matter of course that the basis of the “African nation” can so easily exchange everything it ever promised itself from the change of power for South African nationalism. After all, the ANC did not politicize and mobilize its base with the promise that one day, a black president would end white supremacy by carrying out its business: namely, by managing a South African capitalism that includes white property and in which the new freedom of blacks consists, not so much differently than before, in being allowed to compete to serve white capital. However half-baked may have been the ideas of a useful black national leadership that had been expected from the conquest of power, ANC supporters and fighters did not intend simply the same as before, only under black command.

The politicians of the ANC know that, too, and have for a long time gone around cynically, conscious of the difference between their statesmanlike projects and the concerns of their base:

The interviewer asks: “But if you go to a community and say, ‘You live in huts because of an undemocratic system,’ doesn’t that give rise to the problem that people expect to get houses when there is democracy? Now we both know that that is not called for…”

Jordan: “I want to say that people do not expect that under democracy, houses fall from the sky. Expectations are justified and the only way to fulfill them is to fight for them. When the ANC comes into office, they have the right to knock on our door and ask: When? And then we need to try to offer them something.”

Interviewer: “And if you tell people that with an ANC government they can tap on the door and ask, ‘houses, jobs — when?’ and then the government is not in a position to supply most of what people demand. …”

Jordan: “It will provide some of it and have to provide acceptable excuses for the rest. … But there are other ways to fight for these things. This could mean, for example, that in the future, people will contribute voluntary labor for the construction of houses: this is another way to fight for better homes, by getting people to strive for these things themselves.” (Informationsdienst südliches Afrika 4/91, p. 12)

Such impressive attempts at modern democratic politicizing, which intend to win people over to the priorities of power with reference to the powerlessness of the state, are of course not directed toward ready subjects who, roped in and dependent on the capitalist business, hope for some success; they are directed toward people who have been agitated for the overthrow of state, who have, in their miserable situation, collected for their struggle sufficient illustrative material, definite expectations and ideas about the meaning and purpose of their black struggle. Even the modest takeover that Mandela is seeking can’t be had without a full-blown power struggle — for this, the old resistance fighters, as future good black citizens, are to throw themselves into the breach, shelving their concerns behind a new race-neutral nationalism and a selfless recognition of capitalist business necessities with all the brutal consequences that they know only too well, and doing this as thoroughly as demanded by the black representatives of the new South Africa. Will that make any sense to them?

Absolutely incompatible concerns

Whether the blacks and the base of the ANC will go along with the separation of the black takeover from everything they have promised themselves, that will be decided on the previously raised question of ownership — not in any fundamental sense, however, but with the question now already placed on the agenda for after the elections: Do the dispossessed and displaced blacks get their country back? After all, the abolition of apartheid is a kind of admission of guilt by the whites, so that it is not only the small farmers who do not quite understand “that the new South Africa is to be built on the wrongs of the past” (Informationsdienst südliches Afrika, 3/91, p. 71). Therefore, Black Congresses, too, are demanding “from a future government … the immediate and unconditional return of expropriated land. In a ‘Land Charter,’ the forced relocation of millions of blacks and the expropriation of farmers during the apartheid era is condemned.” (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich, February 17, 1994) The ANC has promised de Klerk to respect property and knows plenty of national economic arguments against land distribution;[4] but it cannot and will not completely deny the linking of its taking power with black aspirations for redress and a piece of land:

“Victims of discriminatory land laws since 1913 are entitled to government compensation.”

What that means exactly is kept in the dark, but it certainly provides material for dispute: in the constitutional negotiations where not only the occupation of political posts, but also what is right in general is disputed, the ANC can promise a lot — it remains disputed and left to the outcome of the struggle.

In this way, the land issue is splitting the black parties supporting insurgency: AZAPO (the Azanian People’s Organization) is boycotting the constitutional negotiations because of de Klerk’s ultimatum demanding that “(white) minority rights must be guaranteed, that the return of land is out of the question, and that a free market economy has to be guaranteed.” (Informationsdienst südliches Afrika 4/91, p. 13) AZAPO accuses the ANC of betrayal as well as political stupidity:

“In our estimation, only the National Party really seems to win in this process. The blacks have not benefited from the negotiations. … Whatever the ANC and PAC do, if they are not in a position to satisfy the needs of blacks, then they will meet with disapproval in the long term. The blacks primarily desire the return of land.” (Ibid.)

The right to restitution of land is thus a divisive issue among the various political tendencies within the black liberation movement: what compensation means, whether there will be one, whether the once expropriated land shall once more expropriated — all that still remains in dispute between the parties that claim the right to represent blacks, and still has to be worked out. Hence the power struggle is not only taking place between black and white and between democrats and racists — for its new South Africa, the ANC will have to fiercely criticize some leftist competitors within and without its own ranks.

For much of the white people and their political representatives, however, the issue of land restitution simply brooks no compromise. Therefore, recognition of (white!) property was the absolute precondition for the ruling party ever agreeing with the prospect of being governed by blacks. Every point of dispute over arranging for the change of power shows that it cannot be a question of a mere change of power and exposes the dubious nature of the wonderful work of reconciliation. A valid constitution down to the last social sphere must first be established and all conflicting interests forced to submit to the then current state interests.

The consequences: From elections to a new “normality”

The organizational form of the transition betrays the actors’ consciousness that, firstly, they are annulling the existing reason of state and its functioning and handing it over to the mutually exclusive interests in land. Second, they reveal that the organizers have somehow noticed that nothing but irreconcilable issues, for which no compromise is possible, are being put forward. The convening of an all-party conference is, therefore, concerned with taking up all possible powerful standpoints, and, in the interest of a non-violent transition to a new rule, pacifying them through their taking part in determining the future political order. The fact that the conference is committed to consensus, so that the new state constitution is made conditional on the approval of all opposing political aspirations, reveals at the same time the knowledge that standpoints that are passed over cannot be integrated because the ruling power has annulled itself. Only when the parties are free to sign only what they want will a consensus not be reached:

“The constitution leaves open what has to happen if no consensus can be reached.” (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, November 16, 1993)

A vote was supposed to be decided by consensus, which then, with majority and minority, is supposed to make the transition legitimate to the defeated standpoints.[*] Elections only work out when everything is already settled. Democratic reform in South Africa, welcomed and praised as the return of this state to the standards of civilization that “we” treasure, is not pacifying this country, but rather from the first is only setting the political interests that are to be reconciled in the service of a new national unity irreconcilably against each other. So the crucial parties of progress are preparing to guarantee the purpose of the election, by force if necessary. Already now they are activating their masses for nothing other than a South African nationalism that the black leaders represent. The old racists will not keep a state that gives them privileges, and the blacks will not gain an order that serves their interests. They are only supposed to step up against the old beneficiaries and want nothing more for themselves, regardless of whether the state, with its capitalist conditions, offers any prospects at all for the majority of blacks that now count as a national people besides the continuation of their generous use as cheap wage-laborers and a reserve army far in excess of all capitalist employment opportunities. In other words, they are to play the part of an undemanding rank-and-file for the demands of new statesmen who intend to bring about South Africa’s emergence with them as a submissive people. That’s what they are abolishing the supremacy of the whites for.

Authors' notes

[1] In the process, the ANC, like all anti-colonial liberation movements, has legitimized its demand for black rule with every possible programmatic idea about what conditions in the country would change and which nationally useful purposes the new government would be committed to. However, the official ANC has never definitely taken up the cause of the program of an “African socialism,” with which in other colonies the establishment of a black nation was demanded, but rather, in the form of its chairman Mandela, quite the other way round repeatedly tried to remove doubt that he was interested in a social revolution. The black lawyers have, in that regard, never overlooked the difference between Africa’s ex-colonial poorhouses and South Africa with its own capitalist national economy national founded on its own national wealth, an economy over which they themselves would readily (jointly) have at their disposal:

“The African Nationalism for which the ANC stands is the concept of freedom and fulfilment for the African people in their own land. The most important political document ever adopted by the ANC is the ‘Freedom Charter.’ It is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state. It calls for redistribution, but not nationalization, of land; it provides for nationalization of mines, banks, and monopoly industry, because big monopolies are owned by one race only, and without such nationalization racial domination would be perpetuated despite the spread of political power. … The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society.” (Mandela’s defense speech in court, 1964)

Of all places, in the only African country where thoroughly capitalist wealth is produced under national direction, where the majority is delivered up to the brutal constraints of a capitalist working class with a million-fold reserve army and a policy preventing a struggle over the price of labor, where, therefore, sufficient grounds and at the same time sufficient means for a socialist revolution were given, the black representatives have firmly rejected such a notion. The fact that the ANC, nevertheless, has become stubbornly tainted with “communism” was due less to the purpose of coalition that it formed with the South African Communist Party than to the determination of the whites to treat it as a “communist threat,” and because the ANC could only expect help and support for its concerns from the East and the African countries that, like Mozambique, had themselves become victims of the anti-communist, frontline state–policy of South Africa and were dependent on Soviet and Cuban support.

[2] The moral opponents of the racist regime in South Africa took offense above all at these “inhuman excesses” of “petty apartheid.” The fact that the state also invaded the private lives of its citizens with its racist sorting criteria, thus denying to blacks the right to human dignity entitled to every Christian man regardless of his other circumstances, seemed to them to be the real scandal, so that the South African regime, with the gradual reversal of “petty apartheid” in recent years, has made considerable progress in mollifying Christian minds.

[3] “What was most important for businessmen was whether the unions represented the workforce and could carry out agreements made.” (Jörg Fish, Geschichte Südafrikas [History of South Africa], Munich, 1991, 2nd edition, p. 42.)

[4] “In Mozambique, the government nationalized the land, but the people did not have the equipment, seed, or knowledge to use it properly.” The economists of the ANC did not learn from this that one has to make a bit more than land “available” to people, but rather that one had better leave well enough alone. “Moreover, the Commission refers to possible sanctions of Western financial backers and the risk of capital flight in case of nationalization of the land.” (Informationsdienst südliches Afrika, 3/91, p. 8)

Translators' note

[*] Some sentences speculating on the future course of the South African nation have not been translated

© GegenStandpunkt 2011