Triumph for new order
South African elections
As expected, the African National Congress won an overwhelming majority in last week’s South African elections, just failing to reach the two-thirds figure necessary to be able to change the country’s constitution.
Nevertheless, from the point of view of international capital it was a highly satisfactory result. Despite the burgeoning crime rate, mass unemployment, homelessness and poverty, the transition from apartheid to stable bourgeois democracy has been remarkably successful. Within a few short years the revolutionary situation which gripped South Africa for over a decade has been completely defused and capitalism is enjoying a situation it dared not hope for at the start of the peace process. There is a government totally committed to profitability, as witnessed by its adoption of the Thatcherite ‘growth, employment and redistribution programme’ soon after its first victory in 1994; yet despite this its vote increased amongst the working class and dispossessed.
Of course most of the ANC’s support came from the black majority, but it has also gained ground amongst a small section of liberal whites. Both the Johannesburg Star and the Mail and Guardian backed Mandela’s party - now under the leadership of Thabo Mbeki. The United Democratic Party of ex-ANC dissident Bantu Holomisa and former National Party minister Roelf Meyer was supported as a rival, cross-race opposition alliance by the Financial Mail, but the UDM, founded in 1997 in the hope that it could eventually replace the discredited NP, gained only three percent of the vote.
With the failure of the UDM the main opposition still comes from two parties which receive the vast majority of their votes from the white population, the NP (now with the suffix ‘New’) and the Democratic Party. The New National Party has made great efforts to distance itself from its apartheid past and adopt a multiracial face, but that could not prevent a huge swing of white voters to the ‘safer’ DP - the voice of conscience of white liberalism during the apartheid era. Paradoxically however, while the NNP was moving left, the DP was swinging in the opposite direction. In condemning affirmative action as a new form of apartheid, it was laying down a marker in order to win over disgruntled whites who like to see themselves as an oppressed minority. The DP won almost 10%, while NNP support slumped to around seven percent.
This shift in white support cost the NNP its control of the provincial government in the Western Cape, where the ANC is now the largest party. The NNP still managed 34% in the province, thanks to the continuing support from the large ‘coloured’ (mixed race) and Indian population, most of whom see the ANC as an organisation for the promotion of blacks at their expense.
The ANC is now the largest party in KwaZulu-Natal, the only other province where it does not control the administration. It gained from the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, having assiduously wooed IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and all but ended the political/tribal violence that had previously left KZN the most volatile and unstable part of South Africa.
The extremes of Afrikaner and black nationalism are now on the margins. The neo-Nazi AEB (Afrikaner Resistance Movement) of Eugene Terreblanche picked up only 0.3% of the vote, while the rightwing Freedom Front and Federal Alliance also received less than one percent. The Pan Africanist Congress won 0.7%, while the Azanian Peoples Organisation (Azapo) gained only 0.2%.
And what of the left? Incredible as it may seem in view of the popularity of all things socialist and communist during the anti-apartheid liberation struggle which reached its peak during the revolutionary upsurge of the mid-80s, it is nowhere to be seen. The only group claiming to be leftwing that contested the elections was the Socialist Party of Azania. However, Sopa is in fact a left nationalist split from Azapo, standing for a black South Africa “in opposition to the IMF”. It finished bottom of all the 15 groups contesting with 0.06%, just behind the Abolition of Income Tax and Usury Party.
This time, in contrast to 1994, there was no attempt to put forward a working class alternative. The Workers Organisation for Socialist Action, previously held up by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty as the seeds of the future, was nowhere to be seen in 1999. The sister organisations of both SPEW and the SWP have folded.
The only left group which still publishes regularly, the International Socialist Movement, whose leaders were expelled from the Socialist Workers Organisation in South Africa in 1994, called for a boycott of the poll. It stated that elections and parliament “can be used”, but this
“is only useful when there is a mass movement which could be aided by such trumpeting and which would ensure that the trumpeters were elected. Such conditions do not exist” (Revolutionary Socialist March-April).
“Revolutionary socialists are few and their organisations are fragmented. The majority of workers who consider themselves socialist have either become disillusioned with, or remain in, the South African Communist Party or even the ANC or PAC.”
The ISM admitted that “to boycott is a wholly negative act” and added that it was essential “that an alternative be built”. Clearly this begs the question: how can it be built? In my view, elections can be used for proclaiming that alternative, whether or not there is a mass movement. True, the ISM is a small group, but I believe that revolutionary organisations must fight to make their voice heard.
As it is, the SACP remains unchallenged. It has played a wholly despicable role in disarming the working class, tying it to the ANC and therefore the new establishment. It continues to imply, despite the evidence of last week’s elections, that apartheid could yet make a comeback and that it is necessary to “deepen and consolidate the national democratic revolution” and to strengthen the alliance with the ANC. Meanwhile its leaders are rewarded with government posts and other top jobs.
It is no exaggeration to say that the SACP has played the key role in the transition to a stable, bourgeois South Africa. Using its deserved reputation as the leading force in the anti-apartheid struggle, and retaining its pseudo-Marxist rhetoric, it has delivered the masses on a plate to the ruling class.