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Blurring Mandela and Neo-Liberalism

Posted on Dec 14, 2013
ben hanbury (CC BY 2.0)

By Danny Schechter

(Page 2)

“A sellout? That sounds very strong,” I said.

“Call it a sellout, an elite compromise, or the elite conspiracy, call it what you like, it happened six months before the general election of 1994,” Terreblanche explained. “In sum, the economic philosophy that was favored by the U.S. in Washington, in London, at the big banks, and the values behind it, were imposed on the negotiating parties. They said, ‘We’ll give you the money but you have to agree to our terms.’ ” So in short, what was lost was the transformation itself.

Also unreported by the Times was how several all-white Afrikaner dominated regimes had earlier nationalized key sectors of the economy without the hostile reaction Mandela received when he announced he would uphold the pledge of the 1955 Freedom Charter to create a fairer economy.

When he was released from prison, Mandela told the South Africa Now TV series that his plans for nationalization were very few, limited mostly to the mines. He said he supported a market model for all other industries.


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That was in February 1990, just a few days after Mandela’s release from prison, so he never envisioned total nationalization of the kind his adversaries suggested, and The New York Times implied.

He was always more pragmatic than ideological, and, in fact, it was the communists with whom the ANC had an alliance that proposed many compromises to reassure the Afrikaners they could keep their jobs.

University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal professor Patrick Bond was working on the Reconstruction and Development Programme when it was abruptly canceled with no discussion or debate. He writes in his book, “Elite Transition,” that the ANC’s hopes for “better life for all,” its 1994 election slogan, were torpedoed by outside and insider pressure.

He wrote, “such hopes—and extensive ‘scenario planning’ efforts to draw ANC and some trade union leaders up the oft-cited ‘learning curve’ (which quickly turned out instead to be a steep forgetting curve for former shop floor or street-smart activists)—were soon to be richly rewarded. . . . Indeed, not only were free enterprise and property rights enshrined in every major economic policy statement and the Constitution itself, full-blown neo-liberal compradorism became the dominant (if not universal) phenomenon within the ANC policy-making elite.”

Jay Naidoo, the former minister who ran the first economic reform, the RDP, told me that the macroeconomic program known as GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) was imposed abruptly. “That document was drafted in secret,” he recalled. “Not even the ANC office bearer saw it. Not even the national executive committee of the ANC saw it. We saw it on the day it was published. So there was a conspiracy in our own ranks which obviously had interacted with very powerful economic forces in the country, and felt that the RDP was too radical.”

The New York Times was not interested in examining how economic pressure of this kind operates in the real world, and is actually leveraged through lobbying, media editorializing and co-optation bordering on blatant corruption. (When officials are caught taking money, they take the fall, rarely the people who do the bribing.)

The ANC is up for re-election next year and it is being challenged by a red-beret-wearing group called the Economic Freedom Fighters. There is no question that these issues will be debated intensely, way beyond the antiseptic reporting by the Times.

There are many in the ANC who are not proud of how their lack of economic sophistication allowed them to be played by their friends. Even Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s successor who was once partial to neo-liberalism, is now saying that a country can’t allow market needs to dominate economic policy.

He told me in “Madiba A to Z”: “I think that the fundamental problems of South Africa have remained unchanged since that transition in 1994. The fundamental problems of poverty, of inequality. And therefore national reconciliation, national cohesion and all that, you have to address these fundamental questions. What is it that needs to be done in order to eradicate poverty? What is it that needs to be done to bridge these enormous gaps in terms of wealth, of income, of opportunity, and so on, between black and white, men and women, and all that?

“One of the problems, one of the challenges that we have never been able to solve in all of these years since our liberation, is the attitude of white capital. Even today, I promise you as we’re talking now, there are large volumes of investable money that South African companies are holding in cash, and not investing in the economy. And this has been the situation ever since ’94, driven by a fear that, ‘It’s inevitable that there will be a crisis. And because there will be a crisis, inevitably, I must hold as much of my assets in liquid form as possible, so that if I have to run, I can’t upend the factory because I can’t move it, but at least the money I can run away with.’ It’s a persistent problem.”

Problems like this are rarely explored in The New York Times DealBook, which prefers to personalize economic decisions. It’s easier to imply in this case that it was all Mandela’s doing rather than look at the forces in the shadows that influence decisions.

News Dissector Danny Schechter was commissioned to write “Madiba A to Z” by the producers of the new movie “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” He has written and produced films on economic issues including “The Crime of Our Time” on Wall Street and financial crimes.

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