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'Apartheid did not die'.

The reason why the benevolence of people like Oprah Winfrey will be needed for a long time (if not forever) in South Africa to improve the lot of black South Africans is finely captured by John Pilger in his 2006 book, Freedom Next Time. In a chapter titled "Apartheid did not die", Pilger makes the point that though political apartheid has been eliminated, economic apartheid still reigns. Osei Boateng reports.


Famous for his thorough investigative work and frank speaking, John Pilger, the Australian journalist and filmmaker who moved to the UK in the 1960s was banned in South Africa by the apartheid regime. He went back in 1997 to interview Nelson Mandela, then president of South Africa. "Welcome back," Mandela told him, bursting into a smile. "You must understand that to have been banned from my country is a great honour."


Pilger laughed back, and asked Mandela "how it felt to be regarded as a saint". The president replied: "Saints aren't allowed to trip up. That's not the job I applied for." So what did Mandela apply for? On the surface it appears he was to deliver a new South Africa of equality, freed from political and economic apartheid. But did he? Spread over 87 pages of his hard-hitting 356-page Freedom Next Time, Pilger shows how Mandela failed to deliver; and his successor, Thabo Mbeki, has not fared any better--all because economic apartheid did not die due to certain "historic compromises" made by the ANC during the negotiations for black majority rule, which finally came in 1994. The "compromises", says Pilger, have ensured that "economic apartheid" will be difficult to defeat. Which is what Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness leader who was murdered by the apartheid regime in September 1977, prophesied in an interview with the famous South African journalist, Donald Woods, in 1976-18 long years before black majority rule finally arrived. Reading the interview again in 2005, Pilger says "I am struck by his prescience".

Biko had said: "For the white man, [one man, one vote] would be the greatest solution! It would encourage competition among blacks, and it would eliminate the most important ground for critique from abroad of the present regime. But it would not change the position of economic oppression of blacks. That would remain the same [original emphasis].

At the time, Biko's words went against the grain because in the 1970s, the ANC had declared: "It is a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact ... does not represent even a shadow of liberation."

But in 2001, George Soros (one of President Mbeki's economic advisers), told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that "South Africa is in the hands of international capital". While average white household income has risen by 15% since black majority rule, according to government statistics, average black household income has fallen by 19%. In 2004, the Landless People's Movement accused the government of reneging on its "liberation pledge" to redistribute 30% of agricultural land from 60,000 white farmers to the rural and urban poor. Nearly 13 years after "liberation", less than 3% of land has actually been transferred.

Part of the problem is blamed on an "ideological barrage" and "incessant" pressure from America on the ANC government in its early years to accept the message of a "plethora of research projects launched by the IMF and World Bank. A seduction of the ANC and its allies was well under way".

Groping for answers as to why the ANC caved in so easily, Pilger asks: "Was it simply a matter of the ANC having been in exile so long it was willing to accept power at any price? Although there were those who had flirted with radical change, it was mission Christianity, not Marxism, that left the most indelible mark on the ANC elite in exile and prison."

Pilger continues: "What exactly was the deal struck between the ANC leadership and the fascist Broederbond which stood behind the apartheid regime? What had Mandela and Mbeki and the other exiles in Zambia offered? What role had the Americans and international capital played?"

In his 2003 book, Unfinished Business--South Africa, apartheid and truth, the white South African journalist and author, Terry Bell, quotes Mandela as having admitted that he met the "apartheid establishment" 40 times in prison before his release on 11 February 1990. During those meetings, every aspect of national life under black majority rule was fixed, nothing was left to chance.

Pilger confirms that "a deal was put together in high secrecy between November 1987 and May 1990 when ANC officials led by Thabo Mbeki (who had attended an earlier secret meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, between the "white establishment" and a select group of ANC top brass in exile), met 20 prominent members of the Afrikaner elite at a stately house (Mells Park House) near Bath, in England. 'It's a civilised world out there,' recalled Mof Terreblanche, a corpulent Afrikaner stockbroker and close friend of De Klerk. 'If you have a drink with somebody and you argue and you sit, and you sit and talk, and have another drink, it brings understanding. Really, we became friends'."

So secret were these convivial meetings, Pilger reports, that none but a select few in the ANC knew about them. "Mbeki feared that his plans for a deal--he preferred 'historic compromise'--would be rejected as a sell-out by those of his comrades facing the full fury of the apartheid regime in the townships," Pilger reports. "It was understandable as the prime movers behind these meetings were those who had underpinned and profited from apartheid ... It was clear that the most important item to be decided around the fireplace at Mells Park House was the economic system that would accompany 'democracy'."


While Mbeki & Co were meeting the "apartheid elite" in Europe, Mandela was conducting his own negotiations in prison. "The apartheid regime's aim was to split the ANC between the 'moderates' they could do business with (Mandela and Oliver Tambo, together with Mbeki) and the majority who made up the United Democratic Front (UDF) and were fighting in the streets," says Pilger.

Mandela's contact with the regime was an apartheid true believer who ran the National Intelligence Service. "Mandela constantly offered reassurances that whites had nothing to fear from black liberation," Pilger says. "He went so far as to phone P. W. Botha. On 5 July 1989, Mandela was given a suit and tie and shinny shoes and taken to meet the 'Groot Krokodil' (Big Crocodile) himself, as P. W. Botha was known ...

"Botha's successor, De Klerk, also met Mandela on 13 December 1989. Contrary to the myths about him, De Klerk was no liberal or reformer. During the 1980s, he had rejected even Botha's revolving position and argued against the very idea of blacks in parliament ... And he repeatedly stressed his commitment to "group rights"--the guiding principle of neo-apartheid. It was 'group rights' that the white negotiators demanded at Mells Park House."

But in the end, De Klerk changed tact and oversaw the death of political apartheid and the birth of black majority rule. So what forced this 'pragmatism' on De Klerk?

Pilger says signals from Washington did the trick. "American companies pumped 40% of the oil that powered apartheid, and supplied the computers that ran the police state, and the trucks and armoured vehicles that attacked the townships. At the UN, America protected South Africa by vetoing hostile Security Council resolutions. And when the regime developed nuclear weapons, Washington winked [in fact the US and its allies supplied much of the nuclear raw material and infrastructure to the apartheid regime]."

The British followed suit. Britain and America had been the apartheid regime's best friends abroad. "It was British capital that 'opened up' South Africa in the 19th century and laid a foundation of racial division and white supremacy," Pilger writes. "With apartheid legally enforced in the 1950s and 1960s, and the black resistance progressively crushed, British investment rose correspondingly, doubling between 1956 and 1970. At Sharpeville in 1960, two British-supplied Saracen armoured vehicles mounted with machine-guns were used against peaceful protestors--69 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

"After a brief pause, foreign investment poured into South Africa, with British companies accounting for 61%. Profits were huge. In the eight years after Sharpeville, the return on investments was 12%, a third more than throughout the rest of the world. By the end of the 1980s, despite a UN embargo, British investment in South Africa accounted for as much as 50% of all foreign investment in the country." Therefore, Britain and its companies had a big say in South Africa. And together with America, they told De Klerk to democratise.

"At 4.16pm on 11 February 1990, Mandela walked free. He wanted an extra week in prison to prepare himself, but De Klerk said no," Pilger reveals. "When he stepped out onto the balcony of Cape Town City Hall, he reached for his spectacles and realised he had left them in prison. Wearing his wife's glasses, and with Cyril Ramaphosa supporting him, he spoke to millions in South Africa and around the world: 'Now is the time to intensify the struggle,' he said, warning the regime that if its orchestrated violence continued, 'the people will not hesitate to fight back'. It was a proud and angry statement and perhaps the most militant speech Mandela ever made."

But the next day, Mandela appeared to correct himself when he reassured the white establishment that he was "not a communist" and that black majority rule would not result in "the domination of whites by blacks". He even repeated his earlier description of De Klerk as "a man of integrity".

This, Pilger reports, "upset many in the resistance, and when word spread that De Klerk and Mbeki had been secretly negotiating for more than two years, there was widespread disappointment and dismay. This turned to anger when it was revealed that Mandela had written to P. W. Botha offering special constitutional protection for whites".

When Pilger interviewed President Mbeki some years later, he asked him: "Do you recognise that many people saw this as betrayal?" Mbeki replied: "Had we not made the historic compromise, there would have been bloodbath and a great suffering across the land."

This fear of a "bloodbath" or "civil war" led to certain political decisions made by Mandela, Mbeki and their fellow "moderates" in the ANC which effectively relegated the needs of the poorest people in the country and allowed what Pilger calls, "the continuation of suffering by exclusion: apartheid by other means". "Over the course of three years," Pilger says, "half a dozen critical decisions were made by a small group around Mbeki (who was advising Mandela).

"These were, in 1992, to drop nation-alisation, which had been an ANC pledge reiterated by Mandela in 1993, to endorse the apartheid regime's agreement to join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade [GATT, the forerunner of the WTO], which effectively surrendered economic independence and, in the same year, to repay the $25bn of apartheid-era debt, grant the Reserve Bank formal independence, and accept loans from the IMF; and in 1995, to abolish exchange controls which allowed the wealthy whites to take their capital overseas. Incredibly, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel later allowed South Africa's biggest companies to flee their financial home and set up in London."

Pilger interviewed De Klerk in 1998 and asked him if the ANC's fear of civil war was justified, and whether he had sought to sabotage the 1994 elections via third-party violence?

De Klerk, according to Pilger, began with a series of sentences with the words "I deny ..." and "I knew nothing ..."

"He denied he knew anything about the murderous, covert operations confirmed by two cabinet committees that he chaired. He denied knowing about the death squads of Vlakplass, the headquarters of the South African Gestapo, even though one of its commanders, Dirk Coetzee, had publicly confessed. He denied receiving a letter from Coetzee alerting him to assassination orders given in his name."

Pilger: 'How could you know nothing? You were at all the meetings, you were privy to all the planning, all the documents. You were the president of South Africa ... 'De Klerk interrupted Pilger: "I knew nothing,"

'About any of it?'

"Any of it."

And then, there was silence. A chain-smoker, De Klerk puffed on his cigarettes, and added: "I remind you; I have been awarded, with Mr Mandela, the Nobel Peace Prize."

Pilger: 'Mandela regards you as duplicitous. He can barely speak your name.'

De Klerk shrugged and took a drag. "That is for him ..."

Pilger: 'You described 'separate development' (apartheid) as an 'idealistic mission'.

De Klerk: "That is a complex issue ... and I believe history has moved forward. We are now at peace."

Pilger: 'Didn't you and your fellow white supremacists really win? De Klerk's expression, says Pilger, changed as if a secret truth had been put to him. He waved away the smoke, and Pilger pressed home the point:

'You ensured that the white population had to make no substantial changes; in fact, many are better off, and white corporate power has never been stronger.'

Smiling, De Klerk replied: "It is true that our lives have not fundamentally changed. We can still go to the cricket at Newlands and watch the rugby. We are doing okay ..."

Pilger says De Klerk "warmed up to this implied criticism of the ANC and agreed that his most enduring achievements was to have handed on the apartheid regime's economic policies to the ANC government, including the same Reserve Bank governor, the same finance minister in the post-1994 'government of national unity', the same corporate brotherhood. He spoke about blacks who 'now live in big houses' as the beneficiaries of 'affirmative action'." 'Isn't that the continuation of apartheid by other means?' De Klerk replied: "You must understand, we've achieved a broad consensus on many things now."

Pilger is astounded by the generosity of black South Africans, like blacks elsewhere on the continent who made reconciliation their swansong after independence from oppressive colonial rule.

"I failed to meet a black South African who dreams of revenge of persecuting whites, as whites persecuted blacks," Pilger writes. "Behind their walls and dogs, those whites who neither expected nor deserved so painless a transition from the atrocities of apartheid have yet to appreciate the second chance they have been given. To listen to young white medical students bitterly complaining about their legal obligation to spend two years in a rural clinic is to test tolerance. South Africa's doctors were complicit in apartheid."

Pilger later went to interview Mandela in the president's residence in Groote Schuur, outside Cape Town. He asked Mandela: 'Weren't there two kinds of apartheid and the more entrenched kind was economic, which hasn't changed?'

Mandela replied: "You must remember that the best way to introduce transformation is to do so without dislocating any aspect of our public life. We do not want to challenge big business that can take fright and take away their money."

Pilger: 'But what about the rich getting richer and the poor ...'

Mandela: "As for poor people, here is an example for you. There is no country where labour tenants have been given the security we have given them, where they now have a right to the land they occupy, where a farmer cannot just dismiss."

Pilger: 'But they are evicting them, regardless of the new legislation. For most tenant farmers, little has changed.' Mandela: "No, no, that's an exaggeration. We have set up a process and proper structures ..."

Pilger: 'The ANC Freedom Charter said the people of this country would share in all its wealth. Is that still possible?'

Mandela: "Why not? They are beginning to share in that wealth. You now have blacks, coloured and Indians involved in companies that command billions of assets, something totally new in this country. You see in Johannesburg many blacks now buying properties in the wealthy suburbs."

Pilger: 'Many?'

Mandela: "Compared with before ..."

Pilger: 'A government minister called the ANC's policies Thatcherite, complete with privatisation and deregulation. 'Mandela: "You can put any label on it you like; you can call it Thatcherite but, for the country, privatisation is the fundamental policy."

Pilger: 'That's the opposite of what you said before the first elections in 1994.'

Mandela: "There is a process. You have to appreciate that every process incorporates change."


Pilger: 'Reconciliation has been your constant theme. Do you reflect on the fact that not a single leading figure in the old regime--from the military to the judiciary--has shown any genuine remorse for apartheid.'

Mandela: "That's going too far. The Dutch Reformed Church was publicly commended by Archbishop Tutu for apologising. You have individuals, like Leon Wessels and a city mayor and some others who have apologised generally. What the public wants is for those on high to confess they authorised the crimes of apartheid. That has not been forthcoming ... and yes, it's a tragedy that De Klerk has avoided accepting responsibility for what he authorised."

The last word belonged to Franzi Baleni, a representative of the National Union of Mine Workers. Pilger met him at the Carltonville pit-head near Johannesburg, and asked him: 'Is South Africa free yet?' "We are half free," Baleni replied, laconically.
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Author:Boateng, Osei
Publication:New African
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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