The update of the database software of the ZNet site is still causing
substantial problems -- so much so that we are unable to send out our
nightly Sustainer Commentary to our Sustainer list. 
I am therefore sending it to our complete ZNet Free Update list. That
will reach the Sustainers, and 155,000 other folks too! I hope you all
like it. I may be doing this a few more nights, as well.
If you would like to get the commentaries every night, including when
our systems are back in good operating order, consider joining the
Sustainer Program via http://www.zmag.org/Commentaries/donorform.htm 
We really do need your support.
Here then is tonight's Commentary from ZNet regular commentator Patrick
After the South African Election: Rhetorics and Realities

Patrick Bond

Now that the dust is settling on the South African national election
results - with no surprises whatsoever from the April 14 vote - the
society can more seriously contemplate how ten years of neoliberal
policies can be reversed.

The outcome, after all, appears tediously similar to 1999. The ruling
African National Congress (ANC) won roughly 70%, as anticipated, and
president Thabo Mbeki's Machiavellian divide-and-conquer of the two
white-dominated opposition parties reduced their combined vote markedly,
from 20% to around 15%. At closer to 6%, the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom
Party will need a white partner to help it continue ruling the province
of KwaZulu-Natal. Parties whose critique of ANC rule was mainly from the
left did badly: the United Democratic Movement and Pan Africanist
Congress have each barely maintained a parliamentary presense; the
black-consciousness Azanian Peoples Organisation and its breakaway
Socialist Party of Azania do not seem to have even attained
parliamentary standing.

Progressive political organizations which decided not to run their own
candidates for election exhibited weakness and inconsistency. Many
thousands of Johannesburg township activists consciously 'spoiled' their
ballots in protest, while the Landless People's Movement (LPM) called
for a simple boycott, in anticipation that the apathy factor would rise
substantially. Early returns suggest that turnout was substantially
lower than 1994 and 1999, but at more than 75% of registered voters, the
LPM cannot claim victory for the boycott strategy.

What the landless activists can do, however, is honour the arrests of
more than 60 members in the ghetto of Thembelihle, near Soweto, on
election day. As the movement's press statement explained, 'The people
have been arrested in terms of the Electoral Code of Conduct and the
1993 Prohibition of Illegal Gatherings Act. The charges are related to
illegal gatherings on the day of elections. The LPM regards the charges
as spurious. The LPM members were not permitted to gather even though
they were prepared to observe regulations allowing only protests held at
least 200m from any polling station. They were arrested as they
disembarked from their transport, and so no gathering or meeting even
took place.'

Judging by this sort of repressive - indeed, paranoid - security and the
falling living standards experienced by the majority of black South
Africans, the government should be subject to the kinds of insurgent
protests witnessed recently in Latin America. Denying these harsh
realities, the ANC took to doctoring simple statistics during the

Consider the doubling of formal unemployment from 16% in 1994 to 32% in
2002. When one adds millions of people who have given up any hope of
finding a job, the jobless rate rises to 43%.

Yet as the election neared, ANC politicians like trade and industry
minister Alec Erwin insisted that two million new jobs were created
since 1994, based on an official Labour Force Survey. That survey
defines 'employment' as including 'beg[ging] money or food in public'
and 'catch[ing] any fish, prawns, shells, wild animals or other food for
sale or family food.' Asked about this measure two months ago, the main
trade union official, Zwelinzima Vavi, said simply, 'It is absurd to
record such labour as jobs.' Nevertheless, last week Vavi's chief
economist defended the statistics by way of justifying labour's
endorsement of the ANC as the only party with, supposedly, 'the workers'
interests at heart.'

In reality, the ten-year liberation celebrations to be held around the
day of Mbeki's re-inauguration, April 27, will be much more boisterous
in the mansions and corporate headquarters of Johannesburg. 'The
government is utterly seduced by big business, and cannot see beyond its
immediate interests,' remarked the neoliberal editor of Business Day
newspaper, Peter Bruce, last June.

It is here that the core concession made by the ANC during the early
1990s transition deal is apparent, namely in the desire by white
businesses to escape the economic stagnation and declining profits born
of a classical capitalist crisis, in the context of a sanctions-induced
laager, and amplified by the 1970s-80s rise of black militancy in
workplaces and communities.

The deal represented simply this: black nationalists got the state,
while white people and corporations could remove their capital from the
country, and simultaneously remain domiciled in South Africa with,
thanks to economic liberalisation, still more privileges. Trade, credit,
cultural and sports sanctions ended; exchange controls were lifted;
luxury imports flooded in; white people's incomes rose by 15% during the
late 1990s; taxes were cut dramatically; and the corporate pre-tax
profit share soared during the late 1990s, back to 1960s-era levels
associated with apartheid's heyday.

Hence inequality soared during ANC rule, state statistics show. Black
'African' South Africans suffered an income crash of 19% from 1995-2000,
with every indication of further degeneration in subsequent years. The
ANC rebuttal is that when state spending is accounted for, the
inequality lessens. Yet notwithstanding deeper poverty, the state raised
water and electricity prices, to the point that by 2002 they consumed
30% of the income of those households earning less than $70 per month.
An estimated 10 million people had their water cut off, according to two
national government surveys, and 10 million were also victims of
electricity disconnections (see http://www.queensu.ca/msp for the
ongoing numbers controversy).

The debate over whether state services have been provided to low-income
black customers in a sustainable manner - or instead are priced too high
because of privatisation pressures -- was finally joined by Mbeki last

As reported in Sunday's City Press newspaper (mainly read by blacks),
'After meeting pensioners like 92-year-old Mamelodi resident Johanna
Mashigoane, whose electricity had been cut off as she could not afford
to pay for it, and unemployed Macassar resident Zelna Hendricks, who had
received an eviction letter from the council after failing to pay rates,
Mbeki could not hide his outrage. Local government policy towards the
poor, he declared, would have to change after the elections and central
government would need to allocate more money to municipalities to deal
with this problem.'

Although municipal policy on disconnections and evictions is in fact a
national policy with World Bank fingerprints, approved by the Cabinet on
several occasions, Mbeki's raised consciousness is a step forward to
reality. The week before, his chief communications officer took a step
backwards when he wrote insensitively in the Sunday Times (mainly read
by whites) in defense of disconnections: '10 million people connected to
water which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be compared with
the few households occasionally cut off.'

The question is whether such zigzagging is merely a product of election
rhetoric, or instead reflects the permanent contradictions between
big-business advocates of essentially neoliberal development policies,
and well-moblised activists. South Africa hosts some of the world's most
militant social movements, who demand the decommodification of water,
electricity, anti-retroviral medicines and healthcare, education, and
even a Basic Income Grant.

Defenders of the elite transition deal may claim that leftward pressure
on the ANC also emanates from the Constitution's celebrated
socio-economic rights clauses. But the 1996 document appears a bit
tattered these days, partly because the judges are too frightened to
take a stand against the state's neoliberal policies, and partly because
of an incident on March 21 at the opening of the Court's beautiful new
building in central Johannesburg at the site of the old Fort Prison next
to Hillbrow.

The tale is worth recounting. Johannesburg community activists in the
Anti-Privatisation Forum called a march to protest the installation of
pre-paid water meters in Soweto by the French company Suez, which is
running the city's outsourced water company. City officials banned the
march on absurd grounds (traffic disturbances - on a Sunday?). The
police arrested 51 activists, some simply because they were wearing red
shirts, and blocked travel of APF buses into Johannesburg. Neither the
judges nor Mbeki - who attended the opening ceremony - uttered a word in
the protesters' defense, so even first-generation civil/political rights
now appear merely contingent.

That incident aside, the country's highest court has heard three major
cases on socio-economic rights: one led to the death of a man denied
kidney paralysis treatment because the judges deemed it too expensive;
the next helped the Treatment Action Campaign acquire AIDS medicines for
pregnant women because the judges agreed the state was needlessly
killing tens of thousands of infants each year; and another allegedly
enforced the right to emergency municipal services - but checking back
on the successful plaintiff, Irene Grootboom, in her Cape Town ghetto,
the Sunday Times found her community as destitute as in September 2000,
at the time of her case.

To be sure, the status of women like Grootboom includes some
improvements since 1994, especially in reproductive rights, albeit with
extremely uneven access. But contemporary South Africa retains
apartheid's patriarchal modes of surplus extraction, thanks to both
residual sex discrimination and the migrant (rural-urban) labour system,
which is still subsidised by women stuck in the former bantustan

Structured superexploitation of women is accompanied by an apparent
increase in domestic violence associated with rising male unemployment.
Mbeki was quoted by the SA Press Association on March 22, the day after
Human Rights Day: 'He said if ever his sister was to arrive home and
tell him that she was in love with African Christian Democratic Party
leader Kenneth Meshoe, he would have to beat her.' A spokesperson said
the president was only joking.

Women are also the main caregivers in the home, and bear the highest
burden associated with degraded health. Public-sector services continue
declining due to underfunding and competition from private providers.
Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, diarrhea, cholera, malaria and
AIDS are rife, all far more prevalent than during apartheid. Most South
Africans with HIV still have little prospect of receiving antiretroviral
drugs to extend their lives. Only last week - in time for the election
-- did the medicines finally begin to make their way to hospitals and a
few clinics.

During his five years as president, Mbeki has taken various obstinate
stands against the poor and the sick. He has also stood down human
rights activists and arms-control groups opposed to his $6 billion
purchase of sophisticated weaponry from European corporations. The
widespread influence-peddling scandals associated with the arms deal
threatened deputy president Jacob Zuma last year, after he allegedly
solicited a bribe in a manner the justice minister deemed 'prima facie
corruption', and it forced the resignation of several leading ANC
politicians and officials caught in plots.

On the environmental front, the country's ecosystem as today in worse
condition, in many crucial respects -- e.g., water and soil resources
mismanagement, contributions to global warming, fisheries, industrial
toxics, genetic modification -- than during apartheid. And because a
World Bank-style neoliberal land reform policy was adopted just after
liberation, less than 3% of arable land was redistributed, as against a
1994-99 target of 30%.

The systematically repressive side of Mbeki's regime was unveiled to the
world during the August 2002 protests against the UN's World Summit on
Sustainable Development. Leading anti-privatisation activists in the
black townships of Johannesburg and Cape Town are repeatedly harassed
and detained by police -- mainly illegally (resulting in high-profile
acquittals) - for resisting evictions and disconnections. Treatment
Action Campaign members were savagely beaten in early 2003 during a
non-violent civil disobedience campaign to acquire medicines.

In short, the record upon which the ANC campaigned was one of
low-intensity democracy in which the ruling party regularly wins
elections because US-style corporatist trade unions remain aligned to
the ruling party, their leaders unwilling to risk establishing a
broad-based progressive movement to fight neoliberalism from outside.

But the transition from racial to class apartheid will not go unpunished
forever. In another ten years, or before, a much more optimistic report
will surely be feasible.

 (Bond's new book, out this month from University of KwaZulu-Natal
Press, is Talk Left, Walk Right: South Africa's Frustrated Global

===================================This message has been brought to you by ZNet 
(http://www.zmag.org). Visit our site for subscription options.

Reply via email to