Mandela and British Tory prime minister David Cameron.  Twenty-five years ago, the Tories, and their co-thinkers around the world, denounced Mandela as a 'terrorist'.

Mandela and British Tory prime minister David Cameron. Twenty-five years ago, the Tories, and their co-thinkers around the world, denounced Mandela as a ‘terrorist’.

by Andy Warren and Philip Ferguson

Nothing against the man, and RIP etc, but it’s basically good that he is no longer lingering.  From his imprisonment for starting an armed movement to fight apartheid – and the denunciations of the man as a ‘terrorist’ by the leaders of capitalism all over the world – Mandela sadly became a re-packaged sanitised “statesman”, indeed “elder statesman”.  The way he became venerated by celebrities and bourgeois politicians across the globe, you could be forgiven for thinking he’d been imprisoned for 27 years for sitting down in the street singing “Kumbaya”, in between rounds of petitioning for an end to apartheid.  In fact, when he was a prisoner, Amnesty International wouldn’t campaign for his release, even in the 1980s, as he became a cause celebre.  Amnesty’s reason being that he wasn’t a prisoner of conscience; he was a self-admitted leader of an armed group working on blowing up stuff.

Mandela was a personally very courageous fighter against the rigid system of discrimination made necessary by the specific conditions of capital accumulation in South Africa.  But it was the very repressiveness of the system that drove him and his fellow ANC comrades to arms, rather than radical politics.  The kind of resistance tactics forced on Mandela and the ANC made them look politically more radical than they actually were.  For instance, when the apartheid regime massacred at least 69 peaceful protesters, and wounded many more, at Sharpeville in March 1960, it was clearly no longer possible to maintain a movement based on peaceful civil disobedience.  You’d just get shot off the street.

So the ANC established Umkonto we-Sizwe (MK, Spear of the Nation) as its armed wing and Mandela as its chief-of-staff.  Mandela and other early leaders were captured by the South African apartheid authorities and given extremely punitive prison sentences to be served on Robben Island.  MK continued, however, and began a campaign of economic sabotage and other small-scale guerrilla activities.  Nevertheless it wasn’t really until 1976 that the struggle against apartheid resumed on a significant scale within South Africa.  The struggle by school students in Soweto, the sprawling impoverished black townships on the outskirts of Johannesburg, although subjected to heavy repression, marked the beginning of the end of the system of racialised segregation which South African capital had found essential to get off the ground.

The Soweto struggle also led to an intensification of global solidarity with the anti-apartheid movement within South Africa.  In New Zealand, for instance, Soweto marked the point at which the anti-apartheid movement here began to become a mass movement.  By 1981 it could mobilise many tens of thousands of people on the streets against the 1981 Springbok tour and begin to challenge the authority of the state itself.

The Soweto struggle was followed by a big expansion of the black labour movement in South Africa, with new, militant unions organising hundreds of thousands of black workers in the mines, car plants and other key industries.  Moreover, after Soweto, the apartheid state, no doubt much to its surprise, found that repression didn’t work any more.  Instead of beating people off the streets, the repression simply pissed people off even more.  The state lost the initiative.  Instead of the anti-apartheid movement having to continually respond to the repressive and anti-democratic initiatives of the state, the state had to respond to the liberatory initiatives of the rapidly spreading domestic opposition to its policies, and the growing global support for the ANC.

The apartheid regime also found itself in a military quagmire when it invaded newly-independent Angola in the mid-1970s.  The radical nationalist regime there asked for Cuban assistance to fight the South Africans and the Cubans and Angolans began to push the SADF (South African Defence Forces) out of the country.  The SADF were defeated by the Cubans at Cuito Cuanavale, a defeat which marked one of the turning points in the struggle against apartheid.  Instead of having a friendly Portuguese military dictatorship exercising power over both Angola and Mozambique, the apartheid regime became more isolated in the region and the success of the anti-colonial movements in those countries increased the confidence and determination of the ;liberation movement within South Africa itself. (This para has been added to the original article, after we were reminded about it by a reader: see comments section.)

By the 1980s the momentum in South Africa was unstoppable and the question for the ‘smart money’ in the country, and among global investors, was how to disentangle the political system of apartheid from the economic system of capitalism.  It was here that Mandela played an ignominious role, as did the wider ANC leadership, a substantial section of which belonged to the pro-Moscow South African Communist Party.  The collapse of the Soviet bloc made things easier for the apartheid rulers.  The SACP, their ‘socialist’ model collapsed and discredited, swung over to an essentially pro-capitalist position.  Indeed, within a few years, they were leading ideologues, within the ANC government, for neo-liberal economic policies.

In any case, as noted above, the repressive nature of apartheid meant that the ANC tended to look more radical than it was.  In the 1960s, for instance, Mandela clearly stated that his model was the British Westminster model of a capitalist democracy and that if he had’ve lived in Britain he would quite possibly have been a supporter of the Liberal Party!  It wasn’t a big leap for the ANC to shift back politically to that position in the late 1980s and the early 1990s as the possibility of political reforms to remove formal apartheid was put to them by sections of the South African ruling class.


Graph taken from Michael Roberts’ article on Mandela’s economic legacy:

Moreover, the needs of South African capital in 1990 were different in important ways from its needs in its early stages of accumulation in the late 1800s.  The political system, based around legal, rigid, racialised oppression, no longer fitted the needs of the economy.  And the kind of economic restructuring that was needed required a different political system.  In fact, there was a two-way process going on.  The liberation movement was pushing the doors of apartheid open from the outside, while the needs of South African capital were inching the doors open from the inside.

Mandela, as the most famous uncorrupted long-time political prisoner, enjoying immense prestige among the black population, became the necessary transitional figure and was prepared to play that role.  Anyone who has the sting taken out of them by a brutal regime like apartheid, and is then trundled out as a respectable statesman, has clearly lost all threat to the status quo and ruling class but can still be seen by the masses as the personification of the struggle and of their own desires for economic as well as political liberation.  (Although many people probably still think he served out his entire stretch on Robben Island, he was actually moved in 1982 to Pollsmoor, “where he could receive and entertain people”, as John Pilger reports.)

Moreover, Pilger’s report on an interview with Mandela during his presidency is very revealing.  Pilger recalls, “I had asked him why the pledges he and the ANC had given on his release from prison in 1990 had not been kept. The liberation government, Mandela had promised, would take over the apartheid economy, including the banks – and ‘a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable’. Once in power, the party’s official policy to end the impoverishment of most South Africans, the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), was abandoned, with one of his ministers boasting that the ANC’s politics were Thatcherite.”

“You can put any label on it if you like,” he replied. “but, for this country, privatisation is the fundamental policy.”

“That’s the opposite of what you said in 1994, Pilger responded.”

“You have to appreciate that every process incorporates a change,” Mandela told him.  In this case the change was fundamental.  Instead of being overthrown, capitalism was to be protected.  Black miners would now have the satisfaction of being shot in the back and killed by black police of the ‘new free South Africa’ and the black masses still condemned to poverty can dwell in the satisfaction that some of the most luxurious mansions in the country are owned by blacks.  It’s Animal Farm in real life.

Mandela actually became quite quickly part of the club that manages exploitation across the world.  As blogger Steve Cowan notes, US president George Bush (the smart father, not the dumb son) “phoned  him immediately after he was released from prison . Bush told him he had been put on his short list of world leaders whom he ‘briefed’ on important issues. Mandela was invited into ‘the club’ and his attacks on western imperialism became a thing of the past. He became the ‘best friend’ of conservatives and liberals alike.”

In fact, Mandela’s shine began to wear off quite quickly for many black South Africans.  In the 1994 elections, 86% of the voting-age population voted and the ANC won over 12.2 million votes.  After five years of the Mandela presidency, the ANC vote dropped to 10.6 million and just over 71% of the voting-age population turned out to vote.  Moreover, the figures don’t reveal the full trend of what happened to the black working class vote.  In 1999, the ANC picked up a chunk of the old Nationalist Party vote, so its black working class vote fell by rather more than 1.6 million.

It should also be noted that the structures of the South African state apparatus remained in place.  The old state apparatus was not burst asunder; it wasn’t dislodged; it wasn’t even reformed much.  Instead, black faces simply filled the parliament and some of the positions with the overall existing state apparatus.

Of course, what Mandela might have achieved had he not been in prison we’ll never know, just like we won’t know what Steve Biko might have achieved had he not been murdered.  But there have been plenty who stayed in active political circulation, who probably achieved much much more for South African black liberation than Mandela, and will never get the same recognition because they remained politically unpleasant for those determined to maintain their power at the cost of massive brutal repression of the black population.  At the end of the day, it was the anonymous black masses, not Mandela, who made apartheid South Africa ungovernable in the old way.

What Mandela became a symbol of actually had very little to do with him. Yes, he struggled bravely and philosophically through a long and nasty prison sentence, and his image is claimed by many to have been pivotal in the end of apartheid. But the apartheid regime did what it did largely on its own time, having sensed that it could no longer continue as it had.

South African capitalism is today basically alive and well – regardless of whether or not apartheid ended. In fact, that was the goal.  Once apartheid was seen as no longer essential, or no longer a vehicle, for South African capitalism, it could be dispensed with – to great accolades and trumpeting, with prisoners released and the first democratic election held.  The potential for social revolution, ever-present because of the way in which apartheid and capitalism operated as siamese twins for the best part of a century, was taken away by the deals Mandela and his co-leaders carried out with the leaders of South African capitalism.  In fact, Mandela and the ANC became so respectable that the architects, and sole governing party, of the apartheid era – the Nationalist Party – actually ended up dissolving into the ANC!

Moreover, just as the struggles in Mozambique and Angola had had a positive effect on the liberation struggle in South Africa the ANC leadership’s decision to cut short the struggle for national liberation at the political point, and thus take over managing a thoroughly unjust system, had a demoralising effect on other liberation struggles.  The ANC agreeing to administer South African capitalism, even though it meant abandoning the promises of the Freedom Charter, impacted powerfully on the leadership of the PLO in the Middle East and the Republican Movement in Ireland.  The leadership of the Provisionals, for instance, were drawn increasingly to the right and accommodation with British imperialism as a result of the impact of the ANC’s settlement with the South African ruling class and abandonment of long-held goals.  Not only that, but leading members of the ANC went to Ireland and travelled around local branches of the Provisionals to help the IRA/Sinn Fein leadership sell to its membership a deal which left the British as masters of the six north-east counties of Ireland (“Northern Ireland”) and made the Provos part of British imperialism’s managerial staff in the six-county statelet, at the expense of the most oppressed sections of that region.

So, don’t be sucked in to all the Mandela-loving. No doubt a great man in terms of his talents and his courage and endurance as a political prisoner.  And sadly, what he might have done in terms of political struggle had he not been captured in the early 1960s, we’ll never know.

But has South Africa improved for millions of blacks?  Well, in purely democratic political terms – the right to vote, and so on – Yes.  But in economic terms, the majority of blacks are probably worse off now than under apartheid.  Moreover, what does it mean to have the right to live wherever you want to, when your income is so small and precarious that you can’t live where you want to anyway?  Meanwhile, the ANC presides over massive levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality, while helping create a new black elite of multi-millionaires while gunning down protesting trade unionists with a fervour which would warm the hearts of any unreconstructed supporters of apartheid.

So, then, what was Mandela about? A poster boy?

“Mandilla? Yes, a nice blick, but he’s OUR blick, we made him”.  No?

Further reading: South Africa, apartheid, capitalism:

South Africa’s non-revolution
South Africa, class and the ANC: an interview with Brian Ashley
The Marikana Massacre: lessons for class politics in New Zealand
The Marikana Massacre: a premeditated killing

Further reading: New Zealand solidarity:

Painting over rotten boards: the Wellington ANC centenary conference
Wellington solidarity with South African miners
Greater even than rugby: the 1981 Springbok tour protests
The 1981 anti-tour protests and their lessons for today
  1. Phil F says:

    We probably should have added that when Mandela came here in 1995, it was rather satisfying to see then prime minister Jim Bolger declare that the 1981 tour should never have taken place.

    However, it was already clear what economic path Mandela’s government was taking in South Africa, so the satisfaction of seeing Bolger and co having to eat some very humble pie was tempered by knowing that not only was the working class in South Africa being sold short, they were also about to be thoroughly screwed over by the ‘liberation’ movement.


  2. Susanne K says:

    John Minto has already noted that while Mandela “brought political and civil rights to black South Africans, economic and social conditions are in many cases worse than they were under the old apartheid regime.”

    Good to see another voice of realism amid the beatification of Mandela.

  3. C. H. says:

    Let the man speak for himself.

    “Who ever knew that the Soviet Union would disappear? Who ever knew that the eastern democracies would disappear from the scene, and become something totally different from a socialist society? That is an experience which requires the SACP and its leadership not to be complacent…

    How many times has the liberation movement worked together with workers, and at the moment of victory betrayed the workers? There are many examples of that in the world. It is only if the workers strengthen their organisation before and after liberation . . . (applause) . . . if you relax your vigilance, you will find that your sacrifices have been in vain.

    You must support the African National Congress only so far as it delivers the goods, if the ANC government does not deliver the goods, you must do to it what you have done to the apartheid regime….

    …it will be foolhardy for the South African Communist Party to become complacent and to rely exclusively on the bone fides of the ANC.”

    Speech to the COSATU special congress, September 1993

    • Al. says:

      Aren’t ‘liberation struggles normally cross class affairs with the working class always on the losing end? From what I understand this is why many Anarchist Communists generally don’t support ‘national liberation movements/struggles’.

      • Don Franks says:

        Al, liberation struggles and national liberation struggle don’t work that way.

        They do not line up and present themselves as tidy recognisable boxes for political pundits to carefully consider and tick or cross.

        Social struggles are movements of hunger and desperation and deep irrational feelings.

        People are drawn and thrown into them and have them inflicted on them.

        Political tendencies try to shape social struggles, a few may claim occasional fleeting success.

        For the most part I think our various little agendas are flea bites upon the big dog of history.

  4. Phil F says:

    That speech, of course, is seven or eight months before the elections of 1994 which the ANC and Mandela triumphed in.

    And then, of course, the SACP went blithely ahead and became instrumental in the imposition of neo-liberal economic policies under Mandela’s presidency and got worse after 1999.

    Mandela did sometimes make speeches which suggested criticism of the ANC’s right-wing economics, but he never did anything to oppose such policies. And, of course, it was on his watch that the neo-liberal eocnomics took off. See, for instance:

  5. C. H. says:

    Indeed, his abandonment of election promises and pursuit of neoliberalism is indisputable. John Pilger’s recent piece in the New Statesman, which ran again today on the NS Facebook page, recounts Pilger’s tough interview questioning of Mandela on these issues:

    Mandela’s words came to describe himself and his party, but his advice here remains correct: workers must expose the capitalist roaders and win back the labour movement. The revisionism of the SACP acts as a great brake on the working-class movement, as this recent piece in Revolutionary Democracy describes:

  6. Paul Davidson says:

    Probably the most sectarian nonsense I’ve read on the subject, Phil. Congrats. You have to measure the role of Mandela against the system of Apartheid, not capitalism per se. Trashing Mandela cos he didn’t lead a communist revolution is not the point. And you totally miss the African and Cuban role in defeating Apartheid.If not for the anti-colonial revolutions in Angola and Mozambique, aided by Cuba, things would have been far different. The following (link below) article tells the story of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

    • Phil F says:

      I don’t know how you read that into it Paul. The piece did not trash Mandela for not leading a communist revolution since he never was a communist and, to his credit, never pretended to be. He did, however, proclaim for many years that the Freedom Charter would be implemented – and it wasn’t. The criticism is not because he wasn’t a Marxist but because he didn’t do what he said he stood for.

      Why, in a short obit on Mandela, would we go into every facet of the end of apartheid, such as the very positive role played by Cuba in pushing the SADF out of Angola and hastening the end of apartheid? Aren’t you guilty of just what you’re accusing us of – judging us not by the limited thing we set out to do (get something on Mandela up very quickly which recognised his personal qualities while also noting the rather large political weaknesses) but by some other, much bigger standard? (we didn’t write about the Cuban role in Angola and how it hastened the end of apartheid).

      However, since the Cuban involvement in Angola did help, I will actually add something in. It’s just a pity you didn’t point out, in a more comradely way, that the article could have benefited from mentioning it, rather than lambasting us on the false premise that we were judging Mandela by criteria other than the ones he claimed to stand for.

      In a similar light, btw, my criticism of the Provos in Ireland is that they ceased being *republicans*. I don’t criticise them for not being Marxists, since they never claimed to be.


  7. Paul Davidson says:

    Dear Phil,

    Why did I call the article sectarian? Because, in its original form it totally negated anything positive whatsoever with regard to Mandela and the ANC, even saying it was good his life ended when it did. I won’t go through everything as people can clearly read for themselves. But now you have revised the article and added some new features, including a brief mention of the Freedom Charter. So we can look at that.

    But first, your central thesis is that capitalism ended Apartheid in its own time and in its own way. That means you reject that the ANC or Mandela played any role except in selling out the struggle. You claim that Apartheid had become antithetical to the interests of capital, yet you give no evidence for this. I disagree entirely with your assessment. I think your statement os outright wrong and that you have a sectarian motive for expressing things that way, to write off the freedom struggle and say capitalism reformed itself in its own interests.

    But you say your main complaint is not that Mandela did not make a communist revolution but that he ‘abandoned’ the Freedom Charter, refused to ‘implement’ it, that he sold out to the capitalists, became their ‘poster boy’ and that, finally, the ending of Apartheid had “very little to do with him.’

    Go back and read the Freedom Charter. Out of 55 action demands, only 12 have not been implemented . Some of those twelve are long term goals while others demand a revolution to ‘implement.’

    I will just mention two sets of demands here, the first being for medical reform. The Freedom Charter set out that a preventative medical system should be established with free access for all. That’s really great, but how to achieve it, by edict? How many Black doctors were in South Africa in 1994? How many Black professors of Medicine were there to train them? The major issue that confronted any medical reform was precisely that Apartheid had ensured that if the white population left the country they would take with them ALL the knowledge, expertise and science so that those left would not be able to pick up the pieces. The white, privileged medical elite had to be encouraged to stay so that Black medical doctors could be trained, which had been banned under Apartheid.

    The Freedom Charter also called for the socialisation of all mineral and mining interests and for the rest of the economy to be ‘controlled’ in the interests of the people, but how could the economy have been developed and by whom if there was no one to operate and manage it? In Russia there had been a huge revolutionary movement that swept up the technical layers, the Jews and much of the middle classes. Even so, to take over the reins of production from capitalism was a mammoth task. Technicians and managers stayed at their posts and worked for the revolution. This would not have happened in South Africa had the Freedom Charter been ‘implemented’ overnight. It would have been a chaotic collapse with a mass exodus of every trained person and no one left to take over the reins. This was ensured by the nature of Apartheid itself which made the economy absolutely dependent upon the privileged white elite at every level bar none.

    Since the fall of Apartheid, essentially at the hands of revolutionary forces, the ANC has become the ruling party and has become increasingly corrupt. That is clear. The remaining economic reforms set out in the Freedom Charter have been totally set aside and workers’ rights are trampled on, leading to a union revolt and new divisions within and without the ruling party. Meanwhile, due precisely to the ending of Apartheid (a word you seem uncomfortable with), a new layer of African, middle class technicians, experts and other educated people has emerged, alongside a more open minded white sector, who can be won to a revolutionary stance in ways not dissimilar to in every other country. This opens up new possibilities but it also needs a new and revolutionary leadership to take advantage of this and fight for it. The working class are the core of any revolutionary movement but without a revolutionary intelligencia one is more likely to end up with a Pol Pot type dictatorship than a proletarian revolution.

    The end of Apartheid swept aside the most limiting condition the South African revolution faced. The tremendous work done by the ANC and its central leader cannot be nimbly dismissed as that of mere capitalist reformers. Nor could I read your article above without feeling the need for a strong response, whether you think my stance is “uncomradely” or not. I don’t take my stance on Mandela from what the bourgeoisie say of him. I am quite aware of their tricks. And neither does the South African working class, who revere Mandela, not for what Cameron, Obama and Carter say of him, but for what he inspired in them and for what his and their joint struggle has done to reshape their lives and their world.

  8. PhilF says:

    No Paul, we didn’t say that apartheid ended simply because it was no longer necessary to capitalism. We said that was *one* of the factors. If you’re going to have a useful political discussion you need to *not* misrepresent what we say.

    You also say we provide no evidence of this. But the article isn’t pretending to be an in-depth account of the history of South African capitalism. Where we briefly mentioned capital accumulation in South Africa I put in a link to a much more substantial article written by Sharon Jones and myself in 1999 about the needs of capital accumulation in South Africa. So, you’re wrong, evidence is supplied.

    I am very familiar with the Freedom Charter because I used to teach South African history. Not only has the Charter *not* been implemented, Mandela himself recognised this. Click on the link to the Pilger article which is about an interview he did with Mandela in the 1990s where Mandela admits this and just indicates that times change.

    You say “how could the economy have been developed and by whom if there was no one to operate and manage it? ” Are you serious?! It is now almost 20 years since the end of apartheid. Then working class could *easily* have been politically developed in that time to operate and manage the economy. However, the ANC (including Mandela) chose *the opposite path*. The path of unbridled capitalism.

    Compare this to Cuba. You could make this argument in relation to Cuba in 1959. But the Cuban revolutionaries charted a course in the opposite direction. Moreover, the working class in South Africa was a much more powerful force than the Cuban proletariat.


  9. PhilF says:

    I’m in a public library and my computer time ran out before I could finish the last post, so here’s the rest of what I wanted to say.

    Your dismissal of what the bourgeoisie think of Mandela is just silly. It’s not a trick n their part. They are extremely grateful to Mandela for the role he played in keeping within capitalist bounds a revolution which always had the potential to spill over into a social revolution. When Fidel dies, the global bourgeoisie will delight and there will be none of the outpouring we see from them in the case of Mandela. Yet Castro in the 1950s is very similar to Mandela. “History Will Absolve Me” was very similar to the Freedom Charter. Unlike Mandela, however, Castro meant it; it wasn’t up for negotiation.

    Btw, how happy the party of apartheid capitalism was with Mandela and the ANC can be seen by the fact that the National Party *dissolved into* the ANC! Can you imagine Batista’s supporters saying after 1959, “Good job Fidel, we’re so happy we’ll dissolve our forces into yours”?

    Mandela was also quite honest about what he was politically. He openly said that the institution he most admired was Westminster and that if he had’ve been in Britain he would have been a progressive liberal, nothing more.

    It seems odd therefore for any Marxist to ‘talk up’ his politics. It’s almost like your position is the position of the Barnesites in the early 1990s, at the point you broke with them. Instead of reassessing their idiotic line on South Africa, one which flew in the face of *facts*, you just continued that position after you left.

    In the 1980s, by the way, I was quite keen on the SACP and the ANC. I read the ANC magazine regularly, along with ‘Umsebenzi’ and ‘African Communist’ (publications of the SACP). I was impressed by the fact that the SACP seemed to be moving away from the old two-stage (indeed, two historical stage) concept of revolution; people like Slovo, however briefly, developed to the left of Barnes. Slovo and others began arguing that there was no ‘Chinese Wall’ between the democratic and socialist phases, but that they were linked in terms of both the tasks and the time-scale. The SACP, of course, was a mass force and comprised a large part of the leadership of the ANC. (I always found Barnesites’ writings on South Africa and the ANC peculiar because they hardly ever mentioned the SACP, whereas anyone who knew much about South Africa knew how big and powerful the SACP was on the ground; in the new, militant unions; and in the ANC. About a third of the leadership of the ANC were SACP, and the ANC military organisation was dominated by the SACP; Slovo was chief of staff for many years and then another CPer, Hani.)

    However, once the East European bloc collapsed, the SACP, or certainly its long-time leadership, swung right into a kind of South African version of Eurocommunism, and the non-SACP section of the ANC, sensing power, also swung right and happily committed itself to ensuring the separation of capitalism from apartheid, and thus maintaining the intense levels of exploitation and oppression which have always characterised South African capital.

    The chief result of the new course taken by Mandela, the ANC and the SACP was *not* met with great enthusiasm by the black working class. It was met by some limited resistance and massive levels of demoralisation. Look, for instance, at the massive decline in voter registration and voter turnout. Barely half the black working class still votes ANC. And the disillusionment began quite quickly.

    Moreover, unlike you, I was a dedicated activist in a *liberation movement* where a similar process took place. So I know first-hand how these processes take place, why and what the effect is. Also, as I pointed out when I made some revisions to the piece that Andy and I wrote, the ANC played an absolutely disgraceful role in Ireland in helping the Adams cabal sell out the struggle. Frig, they even sent that asshole Cyril Ramaphosa over to Ireland to tour local Republican Movement areas (SF/IRA) to get comrades to support the Good Friday Agreement. In Cork, a mate of mine was the local organiser and he told the central leadership that Ramaphosa was a scumbag enemy of the working class and no capitalist millionaire like him was setting foot across the doorway of the Sinn Fein office in Cork.

    Paul, you may think us ultraleft but, frankly, you’re on the side of the counter-revolution in South Africa. The ANC-SACP both led the revolution, stopped the revolution, and carried out the counter-revolution, rather like the FLN in Algeria and Fatah in Palestine. The result was always going to be mass demoralisation. You’re on the wrong side, mate. And who else is on your side, from Obama to Cameron, should, at the very least, give you pause for thought.

    While pausing, you might go away and read Patrick Bond’s ‘Elite Transition’ and the Ferguson/Jones article. No doubt you’ll find stuff in the article to criticise, some validly (no-one else on the left in NZ was making a political-economy analysis, so we did; therefore it’s not hard to find some political stuff we didn’t cover, for instance; but it was *specifically* the political economy side that we wanted to investigate).

    In terms of the comment about Mandela dying, that was part of the original Facebook ‘scaffolding’ piece that Andy wrote and which I then built the article around. But Andy wasn’t gloating that he was dead; it was just much better that Mandela die rather than spend years more in the painful process of dying, just deteriorating away.


  10. John says:

    Good to read of the Cuban intervention in Angola. It’s almost been written out of the history books in recent times yet I remember in the mid seventies to late eighties the presence of Cuban (and Soviet, Romanian and East German) troops, pilots, advisors, technicians and civilian engineers and medical staff in Angola and the front line states was big news in the international pages of right wing media like The Economist.

    I think the collapse of the Warsaw Pact meant that the Apartheid regime was no longer perceived as vital to maintaining the strategic interests of NATO in Southern Africa and was a key factor in the subsequent withdrawal of tacit support f0r that regime by the Western Powers.

    The battles in Angola from 1975 onwards, where largely black Cuban troops halted and defeated the SADF, had to have had a huge impact in denting the confidence of the Apartheid regime and inspiring black resistance. And these weren’t small skirmishes – the series of engagements around Cuito Cuanavale were the biggest tank battles in Africa since World War II. Reading what mainstream military history there is of this struggle you’d think the South Africans won, such is the extent to which history has been re-written. Yet the fact the SADF was consistently fought to a standstill for almost a decade and a half.

    What was wan’t appreciated at the time in the West was that the initial Cuban intervention was done without the approval of the Soviets, who were more interested in promoting detente than getting stuck in in Angola.

    This has even been satirised:




  11. Paul Davidson says:

    Phil wrote: “Paul, you may think us ultraleft but, frankly, you’re on the side of the counter-revolution in South Africa. The ANC-SACP both led the revolution, stopped the revolution, and carried out the counter-revolution, rather like the FLN in Algeria and Fatah in Palestine. The result was always going to be mass demoralisation. You’re on the wrong side, mate. And who else is on your side, from Obama to Cameron, should, at the very least, give you pause for thought.”

    OK, you think there is a revolution is South Africa and I’m on the wrong side of it, in the camp of Obama and Cameron. I say, the wilder your statements, the more personalised they become, the less sure you appear. But on the question of “camps” I find myself in that of Cuba, not Imperialism. Here is what Cuba says about the legacy of Mandela. “We will never accept to speak of him in the past tense.” As against your opening statement, full of insincerity: “Nothing against the man, and RIP etc, but it’s basically good that he is no longer lingering. ”

    Here is the Cuban message:

    Message from the Cuban people and government on the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s death

    Havana, December 5, 2013

    Your Honor:

    With profound sorrow, I send you our heartfelt condolences on the occasion of our dear friend Nelson Mandela’s death, in the name of the Cuban people and government, which we extend as well to his family, the African National Congress and the entire nation.

    Mandela will be remembered for the stature of his example, the greatness of his work and the firmness of his principles in the struggle against apartheid, and for his invaluable contribution to the construction of a new South Africa.

    We afford him profound respect and admiration, not only in recognition of what he did for his people, but for the faithful friendship he showed our country.

    We will never be able to speak of Mandela in the past tense.

    Accept, honorable President, this expression of my immense consideration and esteem.

    Raúl Castro Ruz
    President of the Republic of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers

    Honorable Mr. Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma
    President of the Republic of South Africa

  12. Paul Davidson says:

    Phil wrote: “No Paul, we didn’t say that apartheid ended simply because it was no longer necessary to capitalism. We said that was *one* of the factors. If you’re going to have a useful political discussion you need to *not* misrepresent what we say.”

    Thanks for the tip, however I stand by what I said. You did not say it was “one” of the factors; you stressed it as the dominant factor, as follows:

    “the needs of South African capital in 1990 were different in important ways from its needs in its early stages of accumulation in the late 1800s. The political system, based around legal, rigid, racialised oppression, no longer fitted the needs of the economy. And the kind of economic restructuring that was needed required a different political system. In fact, there was a two-way process going on. The liberation movement was pushing the doors of apartheid open from the outside, while the needs of South African capital were inching the doors open from the inside.”

    “South African capitalism is today basically alive and well – regardless of whether or not apartheid ended. In fact, that was the goal. Once apartheid was seen as no longer essential, or no longer a vehicle, for South African capitalism, it could be dispensed with”

    “What Mandela became a symbol of actually had very little to do with him . . . the apartheid regime did what it did largely on its own time, having sensed that it could no longer continue as it had.

    BTW, the system called Apartheid began in 1948, not the 1800’s.

  13. Phil F says:

    Paul, once again you chose to misrepresent. We said “the needs of South African capital in 1990 were different in important ways from its needs in its early stages of accumulation in the late 1800s. The political system, based around legal, rigid, racialised oppression, no longer fitted the needs of the economy.”

    You respond: “BTW, the system called Apartheid began in 1948, not the 1800s.”

    But we *specifically* never used the word apartheid to describe the pre-1948 situation. We’re perfectly aware of when the system formally called apartheid began. But legal, rigid, racialised oppression existed long before 1948.

    Blacks were used as slave labour on farms going back all the way to the late 1600s and 1700s. The Naive Land Act, a key piece of discriminatory legislation, was passed in 1913. The original Pass Laws were passed in 1922. The Mines and Works Act of 1926 excluded blacks from the best-paid jobs in the mines. The Immorality Act of 1927 banned marriage between black and white. The Native Service Contract Act of 1932 meant blacks couldn’t leave their employers’ property without permission. And the 1936 Native Representation Act meant that blacks could only vote for white MPs and could not do so alongside white voters.

    You’re a hoot. You complain we don’t use the word apartheid enough, although this is actually because the period of intense discrimination began long before apartheid. Then you make out we don’t know when apartheid began!

    You are in the camp of George Bush (the first one), Princess Diana, David Cameron, Barack Obama and co on this one. Quoting Raul Castro on Mandela’s death hardly changes the fact that *in practice* the July 26 Movement, a quite similar movement originally politically to the ANC, took a *completely different* path. I’m more interested in what the Cubans *did in practice* than what *they said* in their *message upon Mandela’s death*.

    Channeling what a Cuban leader says, as if they are the keepers of the holy writ, is no substitute for independent, critical thinking either. The days of infallible leaders in the halls of power are over.

    As for whether a revolution is on in South Africa now, this is another misrepresentation. No, the revolution is not on at present. Indeed the main article on this site about South Africa is even called “South Africa’s non-revolution”!!! A revolution was a possibility, however, for quite some time; until, that is, Mandela and the ANC brought it to a halt in their secret negotiations behind the backs of the mass of activists. Mandela and co., like their counterparts atop the IRA/SF and Fatah, did very nicely for themselves; the masses, not so well.


  14. Andy says:

    Paul, you trample yourself in your stampede to get your cleverness into words, distracting you from the simple task of accurately reading what we wrote, this leads you to see instead the strawman of your own unconscious creation which you can cleverly throw down and grind under the heal of your desperate nervousness that someone else might be right instead of you.

  15. Byon says:

    Under the right wing regime of ANC millionaires, entrepreneurs and former union and SACP bureaucrats cemented in place by Nelson Mandela, South Africa has become one of the most unequal country in the world. Regionally, the right wing ANC regime remains, like the white exclusivist regime that preceded it, a bastion of reaction and a willing accomplice to continuing capitalist and imperialist crimes across the African continent.

    Mandela’s and the ANC’s role since 1993 has been to create a layer of black capitalists, in collaboration with the formerly dominant white capital. The other side to the enrichment of a layer of politically connected blacks, and the restoration of the rate of profit of white capital, is the continuing and deepening impoverishment of the vast majority of the population. Here the ANC’s and Mandela’s actual records scarcely differ from that of any of a host of bourgeois and right wing regimes Paul might care to name in post-colonial Africa.

  16. Phil F says:

    Yes, indeed.

    And having a majority black government in South Africa and some black faces in the bourgeoisie is a boon to South African capital when investing elsewhere in Africa. It seems positively perverse for anyone to deny that the abolition of formal, legal apartheid was in the interests of South African capital.