În frenezia comemorărilor lui Nelson Mandela, prezentăm mai jos un capitol din cartea lui Naomi Klein The Shock Doctrine ce prezintă o imagine mai sobră a ceea ce a urmat după preluarea puterii de către Mandela și African National Congress. Reformele economice care trebuiau să aducă egalitatea au fost obliterate de dorința reconcilierii. Mai mult, ANC, în decadele care au urmat, a implementat o serie de măsuri neoliberale care au sporit inegalitățile.
In January 1990, Nelson Mandela, age seventy-one, sat down in his prison compound to write a note to his supporters outside. It was meant to settle a debate over whether twenty-seven years behind bars, most of it spent on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, had weakened the leader’s commitment to the economic transformation of South Africa’s apartheid state. The note was only two sentences long, and it decisively put the matter to rest: “The nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is the policy of the ANC, and the change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable. Black economic empowerment is a goal we fully support and encourage, but in our situation state control of certain sectors of the economy is unavoidable.”3
History, it turned out, was not over just yet, as Fukuyama had claimed. In South Africa, the largest economy on the African continent, it seemed that some people still believed that freedom included the right to reclaim and redistribute their oppressors’ ill-gotten gains.
That belief had formed the basis of the policy of the African National Congress for thirty-five years, ever since it was spelled out in its statement of core principles, the Freedom Charter. The story of the charter’s drafting is the stuff of folklore in South Africa, and for good reason. The process began in 1955, when the party dispatched fifty thousand volunteers into the townships and countryside. The task of the volunteers was to collect “freedom demands” from the people—their vision of a post-apartheid world in which all South Africans had equal rights. The demands were handwritten on scraps of paper: “Land to be given to all landless people,” “Living wages and shorter hours of work,” “Free and compulsory education, irrespective of colour, race or nationality,” “The right to reside and move about freely” and many more.4 When the demands came back, leaders of the African National Congress synthesized them into a final document, which was officially adopted on June 26, 1955, at the Congress of the People, held in Kliptown, a “buffer zone” township built to protect the white residents of Johannesburg from the teeming masses of Soweto. Roughly three thousand delegates— black, Indian, “coloured” and a few white—sat together in an empty field to vote on the contents of the document. According to Nelson Mandela’s account of the historic Kliptown gathering, “the charter was read aloud, section by section, to the people in English, Sesotho and Xhosa. After each section, the crowd shouted its approval with cries of ‘Afrika!’ and ‘Mayibuye!’”5 The first defiant demand of the Freedom Charter reads, “The People Shall Govern!”
In the mid-fifties, that dream was decades away from fulfillment. On the Congress’s second day, the gathering was violently broken up by police, who claimed the delegates were plotting treason.
For three decades, South Africa’s government, dominated by white Afrikaners and British, banned the ANC and the other political parties that were intent on ending apartheid. Throughout this period of intense repression, the Freedom Charter continued to circulate, passed from hand to hand in the revolutionary underground, its power to inspire hope and resistance undiminished. In the 1980s, it was picked up by a new generation of young militants who emerged in the townships. Fed up with patience and good behaviour and braced to do whatever it took to topple white domination, the young radicals stunned their parents with their fearlessness. They took to the streets without illusion, chanting, “Neither bullets nor tear gas will stop us.” They faced massacre after massacre, buried friends, kept singing and kept coming. When the militants were asked what they were fighting against, they answered, “Apartheid” or “Racism”; asked what they were fighting for, many replied “Freedom” and, often, “The Freedom Charter.”
The charter enshrines the right to work, to decent housing, to freedom of thought, and, most radically, to a share in the wealth of the richest country in Africa, containing, among other treasures, the largest goldfield in the world. “The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole; all other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people,” the charter states.6
At the time of its drafting, the charter was viewed by some in the liberation movement as positively centrist, by others as unforgivably weak. The Pan-Africanists castigated the ANC for conceding too much to white colonizers (why did South Africa belong to “everyone, black and white?” they asked; the manifesto should have demanded, as the Jamaican black nationalist Marcus Garvey had, “Africa for the Africans.”) The staunch Marxists dismissed the demands as “petty bourgeois:” it wasn’t revolutionary to divide the ownership of the land among all people; Lenin said that private property itself must be abolished.
What was taken as a given by all factions of the liberation struggle was that apartheid was not only a political system regulating who was allowed to vote and move freely. It was also an economic system that used racism to enforce a highly lucrative arrangement: a small white elite had been able to amass enormous profits from South Africa’s mines, farms and factories because a large black majority was prevented from owning land and forced to provide its labour for far less than it was worth—and was beaten and imprisoned when it dared to rebel. In the mines, whites were paid up to ten times more than blacks, and, as in Latin America, the large industrialists worked closely with the military to have unruly workers disappeared.7
What the Freedom Charter asserted was the baseline consensus in the liberation movement that freedom would not come merely when blacks took control of the state but when the wealth of the land that had been illegitimately confiscated was reclaimed
and redistributed to the society as a whole. South Africa could no longer be a country with Californian living standards for whites and Congolese living standards for blacks, as the country was described during the apartheid years; freedom meant that it would have to find something in the middle.
That was what Mandela was confirming with his two-sentence note from prison: he still believed in the bottom line that there would be no freedom without redistribution. With so many other countries now also “in transition,” it was a statement with enormous implications. If Mandela led the ANC to power and nationalized the banks and the mines, the precedent would make it far more difficult for Chicago School economists to dismiss such proposals in other countries as relics of the past and insist that only unfettered free markets and free trade had the ability to redress deep inequalities.
On February 11, 1990, two weeks after writing that note, Mandela walked out of prison a free man, as close to a living saint as existed anywhere in the world. South Africa’s townships exploded in celebration and renewed conviction that nothing could stop the struggle for liberation. Unlike the movement in Eastern Europe, South Africa’s was not beaten down but a movement on a roll. Mandela, for his part, was suffering from such an epic case of culture shock that he mistook a camera microphone for “some newfangled weapon developed while I was in prison.”8
It was definitely a different world from the one he had left twenty-seven years earlier. When Mandela was arrested in 1962, a wave of Third World nationalism was sweeping the African continent; now it was torn apart by war. While he was in prison, socialist revolutions had been ignited and extinguished: Che Guevara had been killed in Bolivia in 1967; Salvador Allende had died in the coup of 1973; Mozambique’s liberation hero and president, Samora Machel, had perished in a mysterious plane crash in 1986. The late eighties and early nineties saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the repression in Tiananmen Square and the collapse of Communism. Amid all this change there was little time for catching up: immediately on his release, Mandela had a people to lead to freedom while preventing a civil war and an economic collapse—both of which looked like distinct possibilities.
If there was a third path between Communism and capitalism— a way of democratizing the country and redistributing wealth at the same time—South Africa under the ANC looked uniquely positioned to turn that persistent dream into reality. It wasn’t only the global outpouring of admiration and support for Mandela, but also the particular way in which the anti-apartheid struggle had taken shape in the preceding years. In the eighties, it had become a truly global mass movement, and outside South Africa, the weapon that activists wielded most effectively was the corporate boycott—both of South African–made products and of international firms that did business with the apartheid state. The goal of the boycott strategy was to put enough of a squeeze on the corporate sector that it would lobby the intransigent South African government to end apartheid. But there was also a moral component to the campaign: many consumers firmly believed that companies that were profiting from white supremacist laws deserved to take a financial hit.
It was this attitude that gave the ANC a unique opportunity to reject the free-market orthodoxy of the day. Since there was already widespread agreement that corporations shared responsibility for the crimes of apartheid, the stage was set for Mandela to explain why key sectors of South Africa’s economy needed to be nationalized just
as the Freedom Charter demanded. He could have used the same argument to explain why the debt accumulated under apartheid was an illegitimate burden to place on any new, popularly elected government. There would have been plenty of outrage from the IMF, the U.S. Treasury and the European Union in the face of such undisciplined behaviour, but Mandela was also a living saint—there would have been enormous popular support for it as well.
We will never know which of these forces would have proved more powerful. In the years that passed between Mandela’s writing his note from prison and the ANC’s 1994 election sweep in which he was elected president, something happened to convince the party hierarchy that it could not use its grassroots prestige to reclaim and redistribute the country’s stolen wealth. So, rather than meeting in the middle between California and the Congo, the ANC adopted policies that exploded both inequality and crime to such a degree that South Africa’s divide is now closer to Beverly Hills and Baghdad. Today, the country stands as a living testament to what happens when economic reform is severed from political transformation. Politically, its people have the right to vote, civil liberties and majority rule. Yet economically, South Africa has surpassed Brazil as the most unequal society in the world.
I went to South Africa in 2005 to try to understand what had happened in the transition, in those key years between 1990 and 1994, to make Mandela take a route that he had described so unequivocally as “inconceivable.”