Did the ANC Make a Faustian Bargain? – Danny Schechter on Reality Asserts Itself (3/3)

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to The Real News Network.
I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. This is Reality Asserts Itself. We’re continuing our series of interviews
with Danny Schechter about his new book, Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela.
And Danny and I were talking about some of the decisions that were made just before and
as the ANC took power. And there’s a recent piece I quoted earlier,
and I’m going to quote some more. It’s a piece in The Guardian written by Ronnie Kasrils.
It’s titled “How the ANC’s Faustian pact sold out South Africa’s poorest”, and it’s subtitled
“In the early 1990s, we in the leadership of the ANC made a serious error. Our people
[are] still paying the price.” So this is a quote from in the article. Kasrils
writes: “It was a dire error on my part to focus on
my own responsibilities and leave the economic issues to the ANC’s experts. However, at the
time, most of us never quite knew what was happening with the top-level economic discussions.
As Sampie Terreblanche has revealed in his critique, Lost in Transformation, by late
1993 big business strategies–hatched in 1991 at the mining mogul Harry Oppenheimer’s Johannesburg
residence–were crystallizing in secret late-night discussions at the Development Bank of South
Africa. Present were South Africa’s mineral and energy leaders, the bosses of US and British
companies with a presence in South Africa–and young ANC economists schooled in western economics.
They were reporting to Mandela, and were either outwitted or frightened into submission by
hints of the dire consequences for South Africa should an ANC government prevail with what
were considered ruinous economic policies. “All means to eradicate poverty, which was
Mandela’s and the ANC’s sworn promise to the ‘poorest of the poor’, were lost in the process.
Nationalisation of the mines and heights of the economy as envisaged by the Freedom charter
was abandoned. The ANC accepted responsibility for a vast apartheid-era debt, which should
have been cancelled. A wealth tax on the super-rich to fund developmental projects was set aside,
and domestic and international corporations, enriched by apartheid, were excused from any
financial reparations.” And he goes on to give some other examples. Now joining us in the studio is, again, Danny
Schechter. Danny’s a journalist, an author and documentary filmmaker. He’s involved now
in a new film called The Making and Meaning of ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’. And as
I said, his latest book is Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela. Thanks for
joining us again. DANNY SCHECHTER: My pleasure. JAY: So Kasrils is saying there are some very
specific things that could have been done back then. In the quote I read in the earlier
segment of our interview, he says the balance of forces were in ANC’s favor. Yes, they were
afraid of a bloodbath, but, you know, if you go back to what you said in the earlier part,
you know, if you had done it slowly, you could have slowly done some of the things he just
listed, and they weren’t done. SCHECHTER: I think there was a culture of
distraction going on. There were so many things to do, so many demands on the new government,
so many demands on Mandela, I don’t think they focused on it. But they also learned something which you
haven’t mentioned, Paul, which is really a kind of a serious situation. When sitting
in these meetings, they were basically told there’s no money in the bank, that the Afrikaner
government, that the former government had stolen a lot of the money. So the money that
the ANC thought they could use to build housing, to promote antipoverty programs wasn’t there,
and partly because large loans were made by the former government to the banks in South
Africa–so-called “lifeboats” is what they were called, because in case in the transition
they ran into a bad patch economically, they would have money to tide them over. So a lot
of the resources that the ANC was counting on to be able to tap and to use weren’t there. Also in this period, when they were negotiating
with the World Bank, the actual format, the formula of it was there were eight members
of the old government and eight members of the government to be, who weren’t yet in power.
And so they needed to achieve a consensus with their former enemies, who of course wanted
to keep the market system going the way it had been going, to benefit them. And the ANC
didn’t have the countervailing power at that point, unless they wanted to walk out, you
know, of the meetings, to actually offer an alternative to it. So the negotiations were
not in their favor. I think Ronnie is wrong to say, oh, we had–the balance of power was
on our side, and I think it wasn’t on their side, unfortunately. And so we’re in a situation here where people
are dealing with a very complex set of global financial arrangements that they’ve had no
experience with, and are being given an ultimatum, in essence, by the World Bank. They’re saying,
look, guys, you don’t have any money. We’ll give you the money, but if, only if you sign
off on A, B, and C. And what are they going to do? The elections–this is six months before
the elections. Are they going to cancel the elections? Are they going to see the struggle
that they’ve been fighting all these years go up in smoke? Or are they going to try to
compromise and work something out and make a deal and all the rest of it? And the problem is, looking back 20 years,
we can say this is not a very good deal that they made. Maybe they didn’t have any other
option. But it certainly led to the current situation continuing and getting worse. So Kasrils is right. Terreblanche, who’s studied
this in great detail, is right. But, you know, the fact is that this was not a movement that
was economically sophisticated. They focused, like so many other African leaders, on getting
the reins of power at the state level. Nkrumah, the first leader of independent black Africa,
said “Seek ye first the political kingdom”. That was their orientation going back into
the ’50s. JAY: But one could understand that, if you
then use that political power, even if it’s gradually and slowly, to fulfill some of these
needs that Kasrils talks about. But they don’t. What you wind up having is this idea of, like,
black empowerment means some black people could become very rich, and the needs of the
poor, they get mitigated some, but not much. SCHECHTER: Look, I can share your view on
this, obviously, but I’m an American. I wasn’t there. I couldn’t–I wasn’t making these decisions.
I try to understand and understand the context of what was happening. That’s what my book
Madiba A to Z tries to do is put Nelson Mandela in this context. And I spoke to the people
closest to him and to this whole process, who shared their ideas. I mean, de Klerk said,
oh, we did a brilliant job economically. You know, he was all for all these market-based
reforms. And so were some of the people who ended up running the Reserve Bank in South
Africa, running the economy for Mandela. So, you know, I don’t want to be somebody
who sits in judgment or plays woulda, coulda, shoulda with this situation. I want to point
out some of the lessons here so we can understand how real-world politics and economics works,
how hard it is for a revolution to succeed when they’re up against not just the forces
of apartheid. They thought, if we can get rid of apartheid, that’s the struggle. And
they realized that beyond and behind apartheid was this whole global economic structure,
and it’s much harder to get rid of that or to transform. And that’s been the challenge
that they have. And that’s why the country is very fragmented
right now. That’s why in this–people are debating all this, often with resort to sloganizing,
you know, of various kinds–right on, brother! And all of that, you know, it sounds good,
but when you look at it deeply and closely, it often doesn’t really play out or inspire,
you know, a common program for change. That’s what made the ANC the leading liberation
movement. They created a common program. They unified people. JAY: So to what extent is this debate continuing
now in the ANC? I mean, now it’s clear these policies have led to, you know, not the kind
of transformation people hope for. SCHECHTER: It’s not just continuing in the
ANC. It’s continuing in the country. They’re in new political movements. The Economic Freedom
Fighters is one such movement. There’s talk of the trade unions having their own political
party and not supporting the ANC. There’s a white opposition from what’s called the
DA, the Democratic Alliance. The country is very fragmented. And there’s a culture of bitterness and anger
in the country. This is something that Graça Machel, Mandela’s wife, pointed to, saying
that, you know, the country itself is on the verge of imploding because of all this anger
and hostility. So there isn’t a leader to turn to. There
isn’t a Mandela who can unify everybody right now. And that’s why this new election in South
Africa is very important to monitor and try to understand. And that’s why Mandela himself
was a complicated figure. That’s why I did an A to Z, ’cause there were many faces of
Mandela, not just one. On the right today, they’re saying, oh, he
was a communist all along, he was a Marxist, he was a terrorist, etc., etc. Not true. You
know, everybody wants to pigeonhole people into one little category, and I know that
there’s more complexity to it. That’s what makes this story interesting. That’s why I’ve
written this book. JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Danny. SCHECHTER: My pleasure, Paul. JAY: And thank you for joining us on Reality
Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

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