About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Shades of Difference - Transition In South Africa 5 Years on

Padraig O'Malley

Shades 1999


In the beginning there was the word apartheid. And from apartheid there sprang new definitions of man's inhumanity to man. Inhumanity has, of course, become one our catch-all clichés, every deviance, from child abuse to genocide, falling within its catchment area, a measure of our residual sense of gracelessness, most graphically displayed per our almost perfect means of extinguishing ourselves, not merely instantaneously, but with great and imaginative deliberation to the finer arts of prolonging the throes of extinction, per our almost perfect capacity to perfectly liquidate ourselves that instead of increasing our rulers, the penchant for one-party states, and the relentless march of globalization at all levels of social and political interaction which robs concepts of national sovereignty of their meaning, but has done little to fill the vacuums it has created.


In March 1998, Time magazine boldly entitled its cover story "Africa Rising." It proclaimed with the kind of grand benediction magazines of its ilk and influence inspire that "after decades of famine and war, life is finally looking up for many Africans"1 The years ushering in the millennium were to be Africa's years, when its promise, for so long captive to the "aberrations of a host of African tyrants, endless coups, looting of national coffers for the enrichment of the few at the expense of the untold suffering of the millions, internecine strife, corruption and nepotism"2 would finally come to fruition and transmogrify its immense potential into concrete achievement.

Months later the continent was once again wallowing in the kind of conflict that has bedevilled it in the past. In the past year, one of four countries in Africa were engaged in conflicts,3 as were eight of the fourteen SADC members.4 Half the world-wide deaths from conflict occurred in Africa5: the continent was embroiled in old conflicts, once thought settled, and new conflicts, once thought implausible. Warfare ranged from Angola and Sudan to Ethiopia and the Congo. Pillage, rape, murder, wholesale carnage, massacres of women and children, slaughter of the innocent, genocide's, the obliteration of villages and towns, the destruction of infrastructures built at great cost in the hope that they would open the way to development, famine, and the unending stream of refugees seeking safe haven in countries increasingly hostile to their presence and increasingly unable to meet their needs, were the foundations on which the new Africa of the 21st century would be built -- the legacy of Africa of the 20th century.

"What will it take for Africa' to reject military solutions to political challenges," asked Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations during the Security Council's second ministerial meeting on Africa in September." When will the realization that no one –not a single one-of these conflicts can end in the absence of compromise, tolerance, and the peaceful resolution of disputes." With armaments' exporters, including South Africa , queuing up in increasing numbers to ply their trade in the newest, most sophisticated, and deadliest of weaponry, the answer to Annan's question is as simplistically rhetorical as the question itself.

In the mid 1990s, Thabo Mbeki, then Deputy President of South Africa, spoke eloquently of an African 'renaissance,' of the need for Africa itself to weed out and dispense with its home-grown tyrants, for a post-colonial order free of dictatorship, corruption, nepotism, and dispute resolution through armed conflict. US President Bill Clinton, in one of his more hyper cheer-leading moments, feted the democraticization of Africa as he jet-hopped from Cape Town to Kampala, from Dar es Salaam to Dakar during his "historic" trip to Africa in April 1998. Peace and prosperity, he prophetically intoned, were at hand; the canons of democracy were replacing the cannons of artillery.

Months later, the political landscape of Africa had changed utterly. From Lome to Luanda, from Kinshasa to Kigali, war had broken out. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had collapsed under the new dictatorship of Laurent Kabila. "Africa on the Verge of War," South Africa's Sunday Independent ominously reported.6 In addition, Lesotho, Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan were in various states of implosion; Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau tethered on the brink of collapse; Burundi remained a firestorm waiting to erupt, while Liberia, and Somali could hardly be called havens of stability. In Algeria war raged without restraint, savagery sanctified in the name of religion. Sudan's long civil war was no more amenable to settlement, despite the fact that its major casualties were the emaciated children used by combatants on both sides as human bargaining chips, and the hitherto unthinkable threat of southern secession which would have a direct impact on Egypt's stakes in the Nile was drawing Egypt into the outer perimeters of the conflict, not engaged, but not as disengaged as it heretofore had been. In Sierra Leone rebels merrily mutilated civilians. "The wind blowing from Europe has begun to sweep Africa," the late Francois Mitterand grandly gushed in 1990.7 But the wind dropped to a sparse-like breeze, and finally to a whisper, breathing the awful calm of the suffocation of life.


The events of 1998 in the Great Lakes region and elsewhere in Southern and Central Africa were a salutary reminder of how fragile emerging democracies in the continent were, how tentative and unpredictable transitions to the rule of law, how politics were driven by domestic considerations of national self-interest rather than by the amorphous altruism's of global alignments. When the superpowers withdrew their support at the end of the Cold War for the regimes that were proxies for their interests, regional powers hastened to carve the continent into zones of self-serving hegemonies. In the Congo, the government, which had "overthrown" the corrupt dictatorship of Mobuto Seso Seko in May 1997 came to power , not at the vanguard of an indigenous uprising but on the coattails of the Rwandan army, Within 15 months it had to rely on the military intervention of a Zimbabwean-led coalition that included Angola and Namibia to keep the equally corrupt dictatorship of its president Laurent Kabila in power. The rebels, a Tutsi-led coalition backed by ethnic Tutsis from the DRC -- former supporters of both Mobotu and Kabila ( the enemy of my enemy is my friend), enlisted the support of Rwanda and Uganda, while Sudan supported, although not militarily, rebels active against the Ugandan government, and finally send 2,000 troops to the Congo, bolstering their presence with contingents of rebel Ugandans ensconced in government -held territory in southern Sudan and in bases in eastern DRC.8 Botswana, Mozambique and Ethiopia choose a vicarious courses of non-intervention, ultimately adopting the South African position that there should be a cease-fire on all sides -- a proposition acceptable to the rebels and therefore an anathema to Kabila -- followed by a negotiated settlement and a government of national unity. A South African solution for a non-South African conflict.

The non-DRC countries participating in the conflict were, of course, involved, not because of any altruistic motive to help a fellow head of state stave-off marauding hordes of invaders bent on massacring the native population, but merely to protect their own national self interests.

Rwanda wanted Kabul to tighten his grip, as if he had any, on the Dr.'s eastern borders and to stop Hutu extremists from making incursions into Rwanda, murdering Tutsis, and then retreating to the sanctuary of the Congo, and it wanted Kabila to protect the Banyamulenge, a small Tutsi ethnic group of Rwandan descent who had settled in the Congo some decades ago. Uganda wanted Kabila to expel the Sudanese-backed rebels who were running an insurgency in northern Uganda. Angola wanted Kabila to cut off supply routes for UNITA. Zimbabwe had invested heavily in Kabila's "new" Congo – some estimates came close to $200 million – and intervened to protect its investments, especially since many had been made with Kabila's son acting as middleman.9 Namibia had close security and political relationships with both Angola and Zimbabwe.

Hence, their national concerns were their raison d'être for their intervention on either the side of Kabila or against him. When it became clear that Kabila was either unable or unwilling to deliver on anyone's expectations, those who had opened the way for his drive to power were just as quick to embark on a drive to remove him from power, especially Rwanda, after Kabila's call for all foreign troops – in this case the Rwandan army which had been primarily instrumental in his successful efforts to topple Mobutu – to leave the Congo. Rwanda promptly switched sides and threw its support to the indigenous insurgents, the former supporters of Kabila who grew disillusioned with the nepotism he practiced with oblivious disregard for what the public thought, for the corruption he engaged in, as if to outdo the kleptrocracy of his predecessor, the tribalism he encouraged, and the grandiose autocratic rule which was his idea of good government.

Instead of reform and the promise of elections, Kabila cavalierly banned political parties and jailed his political opponents. Thus the rebel movement, which called itself the Congolese Democratic Coalition and was spearheaded by many of the troops who had once fought for Kabila, now sought to put an end to what they saw as an emerging dictatorship that would be as repressive, and perhaps more repressive than the 37 year dictatorship that had preceded him. In 18 months, Kabila succeeded in alienating all opposition parties and the Rwandan and Ugandan allies who had brought him to power. He dismissed his domestic supporters from key positions in his administration and replaced them with relatives and friends from Katanga. "A not very reliable man; a man without a vision," was Che Guerva's verdict on Kabila. Guerva had come to the Congo in the 1960s to assist in the struggle for its independence. He left, disillusioned and embittered with Kabila and "revolutionaries" of his likes. But even the best can err; when Mobuto succumbed to Kabila's forces and Kabila and baptised Zaire with the name the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), President Nelson Mandela was among the first to bless his administration, assuring him of South Africa's full backing. Firepower brought Kabila to power, and without the continued assistance of his new-found allies, firepower may well oust him. And furthermore, rebel forces that capture a country and take over its government rarely deliver democracy to the people who support them.10

Efforts by the SADC and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to broker a settlement came to naught, and even the redoubtable Kofi Annan was unable to provide the combatants with sufficient grounds for coming together. Kabila insisted that there would be no cease-fire until the "foreign invaders" had departed DRC soil (by some strange logic, "foreign" did not include Zimbabwe and Namibia), he refused to recognize the indigenous component of the insurrection, and vowed that nothing short of total victory would satisfy him.

When the rebels had blitzed their way across the country and only the intervention of Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia saved his regime, Kabila was rarely to be seen in Kinshasa, having taken up residence in Lumbasha, the capital of Katanga, his home province and home to the …….tribe, of which he was a member. Once the rebels had been driven back to the east, he became more secure --and more bellicose. With mediation a seeming victim of the conflict itself, the strife widened. Sudan sent 2,000 troops to Kabila's aid, and Kabila himself flew to Tripoli to enlist the support of Gadaffi. Rwanda, fearing for the safety of the Tutsis who were coming under severe pressure in the east, threatened to declare war on the DRC, and when a number of Zimbabwean troops refused to obey orders and head for the DRC.

Pandora's box was about to open. Mugabe found himself facing a mutinous army, an economy tottering at the edges of collapse, and a restive population becoming more bold in expressing its opposition to what appeared to most to be Mugabe's domestic and foreign mishandling of the country's affairs, due to the prohibitive cost of the war in terms of foreign exchange, difficulties the country faced in trying to borrow on international capital markets, the contagion of the global financial crisis, successive devaluation of its currency with the additional hardships that imposed coupled with Magus's own conspicuous penchant for high-living, grandiosity, and eccentricity, and his growing intolerance of any form of opposition. Two days after the Zimbabwean Minister of Finance, Herbert Murerwa, announced that state spending had soared to $2.3 billion as a result of "unplanned expenditure," incurred in considerable measure by the country's involvement in the DRC, the spectre of renewed food riots was once again raised when the government gave advance warning that inflation was set to surge some 20 - 40 per cent.11

In a sense the respective line-ups pitted the two competing concepts of Africa against each other -- on the one hand, the adherents of the old order where despots resisted the advances of democracy, and on the other, the adherents of the new order where post-revolutionary nation-builders who embraced the axioms of democratic governance and accountability were in the ascendant.

And with war came the unleashing of the hatreds that savaged the continent so often in the past. "Whenever you see a Rwandan Tutsi, regard him as your enemy." urged Radio Congo. "Be ferocious. You will detect the enemy and massacre them without mercy." Xenophobia tightened its noose. In Kinshasa, public executions and ethnic retributions swept the city. Suspected rebels, Rwandans who a mere 15 months earlier were greeted as liberating heroes, such was the popular sentiment against Mobotu, were doused with petrol and burned alive. Charred bodies littered the streets. Kabila embarked upon a relentless drive to vilify, indeed, to dehumanize ethnic Tutsis - signalled out by Kabila to be spearheading the efforts to remove him.. Foreign journalists, French citizens, Americans, anyone white, and anyone born in the eastern Congo became the enemy. According to one account, a man was burned to death for speaking English. State radio urged citizens to take up nails, machetes, spears, bows and arrows, hammers, nails, indeed any instrument that could kill to murder Tutsis. Yet another account had the government sending instructors to train the people of Bakongo, a largely rebel-held province south-west of Kinshasa, how to kill.12

In a blistering column in the Sunday Independent, Mandla Langa, an Africanist by any measure, wrote: .....the regularity with which black people, especially Africans tear at each other should be a cause for concern. As if born without the faculty of remembering, Africans wishing to topple the Congo's President Laurent Kabila strut and swagger before TV cameras. Would-be redeemers who are tomorrow's despots verbalise the essence of their manifestos. The losers are of course the Africans who have elevated the cult of death to a fine art. From Lagos, Addis Ababa, Mogadishu, Rwanda , Johannesburg, Richmond, Harlem, Watts, Luanda or Maputo, the silence of women in mourning shawls is given voice by fashion-conscious anchors of TV networks and distributed world-wide.

Our development relies largely on our political capacity and will of Africans-black and white-to realise that any political enterprise depends on consensus, the sine qua non of any democratic ideal. Anything short of that where we turn a blind eye to corruption, oppression , and murder renders us all candidates for the pillory.13

So much for "Ubunto."

For a time it appeared that SADC had been dismembered.14 Estimates that the creation of a free trade area within the SADC would create five million jobs were, in the circumstances, a mordant joke; and SADC chairman President Mandela's call on every citizen within SADC to ensure that it became the region of choice of international investors and that it emerge as a powerful force in Africa's rebirth added to the delusions of renaissance.15

The word itself had become embedded in the vocabulary of the new order, a panacea for undiagnosed ailments, more potent because its very ambiguousness gave it the currency of political and philosophical foundation. It slipped off the tongue with a mellifluousness that belied the emptiness of content, the hollowness of meaning. And while Mbeki could enthuse about renaissance, he could also remind us that " the children of Africa continue to be consumed by death dealt out by those who have passed a sentence of death on dialogue and reason and on the children of Africa whose limbs are too weak to run away from the rage of adults."16

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, long an arch-rival of South Africa's Nelson Mandela as the region's major power-broker and beset at home by mounting difficulties, tried to use the crisis to trump Mandela. Whatever the outcome, the Sunday Independent opined that "Despite South Africa's painstaking efforts not to be seen as the regional or continental bully, it seems that Mugabe has successfully exploited regional perceptions that we [South Africa] remain more of an American surrogate with imperialist tendencies than a fully-fledged member of the African continent." "We [South Africa]," it continued are falling between two stools in our efforts to play a bridging role between the developed and developing worlds, on the one hand, and that of an honest and effective broker in African conflicts on the other." "What is clear," it concluded "is that an African revival is not going to come without immense pain and conflict."17

Magus, not content with trying to upstage Manuela, but rather more intent on diminishing his stature and influence accused South Africa of being one of the aggressors. Zimbabwean intelligence issued a report that gave "details" of South African shipment of arms to the Great Lakes region: "Millions of dollars worth of South African arms sales to Uganda and Rwanda triggered the present uprising in the Congo and explain the confusing signals coming out of Pretoria regarding a cease-fire in that country."18 Mugabe went further. In Harare, with Kabila by his side, he launched a blistering verbal attack on Rwanda, Uganda , and South Africa, accusing them of urging a cease-fire while pouring arms into the conflict. "They speak about the need for peace when in fact they are waging war."19 Kabila, perhaps emboldened as the tide of war began to swing in his favor and the rebel assault on Kinshasa was repulsed, was even more accusatory. "We all know," he charged , "that South Africa sold more than 60 tons of guns and ammunition to Rwanda before the aggression and we cannot see reason in calling for a cease-fire before condemning the aggression and calling on the aggressors to retreat."20

So much for forgetting that it was foreign aggression that had installed him in Kinshasa in the first place, and that the country welcomed his coming to power, not because of who he was, but because of who he wasn't -- Mobotu.

Mugabe's bid for recognition as the sub-Sahara's pre-eminent power came at a steep, indeed, prohibitive cost. The deployment of Zwimbabwean troops in the Congo cost Zimbabwe $30 million a day,21 a catastrophic cost for a country already strapped by lack of foreign reserves, unheeding of the World Bank's call for reform, not yet feeling the full brunt of Russia's financial collapse, unresponsive to demands for liberalization, and with a population that would turn on Mugabe himself were it not for the omnipresence of his security apparatus. Continuing to militarily prop-up Kabila could only speed-up Mugabe's own departure from the Zimbabwean political scene, a scenario once appreciated that hastened his resolve to declare victory and get out.

Nor was South Africa about to tolerate Mugabe's accusations. At the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit meeting in Durban, Mbeki sent a blistering letter to Mugabe, which he circulated to heads of state attending NAM, protesting vociferously at the smear campaign against South Africa being conducted by Zimbabwean officials. Zimbabwean intelligence officials' reports that South Africa was supplying arms to the DRC rebels were "malicious in the extreme," and he warned that in a situation of such "blatant dishonesty" it would be difficult to maintain normal relationships with Zimbabwe. " The false suggestions," he wrote in his strongly-worded letter, " that we [South Africa] millions of dollars of South African arms to Rwanda that triggered then present situation in the Congo derives from the same malice towards our country and government in which some seem to revel."22

Adding to the miasma of insurgency and counter-insurgency, the OAU still clung, albeit with increasing misgivings, to the notion that "in the context of African brotherhood and African solidarity, the sanctity of national sovereignty and jurisdiction is an absolute political value transcending everything else."23 Article 3 of the OAU's charter states unequivocally that members have an "inalienable right to independent existence". In short, non-interference in each other's domestic affairs is the principle that holds the OAU together.

In the Congo it appeared that nothing could hold the country together, and that whatever the outcome, the DRC looked set to break up, partitioned from north to south along ethnic and battle lines. "The country dubbed the New Congo looks a lot like post War Germany, split in several zones, run by foreign allied powers.." Uganda's Monitor newspaper declared.24

In Africa, in order for emerging democracies to survive, they have to face the acid test of being able to stand on their own without the artificial props well-meaning and sometimes self-serving benefactors erect to hold them up; they must be capable of withstanding the cycles of violence that periodically sweep the continent and develop the internal resilience that allows them to weather the vagaries of a capricious world where national self-interest in the context of a global market is the commanding imperative. "Previous attempts to resolve African conflicts," wrote Mondli Makhanya in the Star, "have foolishly assumed a certain level of maturity of leadership. But the fact we have to face is that Africa's political elite is composed mainly of power-mongering kleptomaniacs who couldn't give a damn about the well-being of their populations." Permanent solutions to Africa's problems, he concluded, "will require greater intervention in the affairs of sovereign nations than the international community thus far has been willing to undertake."25

In his analysis of the African condition at a conference on the African Renaissance, Eskom chairman Reuel Khosa was far less restrained. Africa, he said, was a pathologically diseased,malnourished patient and no amount of institutional structures would be sufficient to rehabilitate the continent unless Africans admitted their problems, and expressed a desire to solve them. Most of Africa's problems, he stressed were of Africa's own making. "It does not benefit us to externalize the causes of our problems. We are a sick continent and we are largely to blame for it."26 War, famine, incompetence, corruption, crime, and a generally declining quality of life were the prevailing conditions in Africa.

Africa's politics, Chose said, were permeated by group rights, rather than individual rights, which resulted in ethnic or ideological schisms. Africa also suffered a victim mentality and its concept of wealth was closer to a feudal economy than it was to an industrial economy. A stage had been reached where black in general and African in particular were synonymous with failure and inferiority: "We have learnt and our children continue to learn, that there is nothing to admire or emulate in Africa."27


For the most part, the outside world ignored the Great Lakes conflict, adhering to the dubious, if not entirely fictious, position that since the Africans were responsible for the mess, it should be left to Africans to clean it up. Moreover, African wars were not seen as "war" in the western sense but more of a perpetuation of pre-modern tribal conflicts now fought with post-modern weaponry. Africans, prevailing beliefs concurred, had a less than special regard for human life, a penchant for massacring each other at the most trivial of slights, an innate inability to govern except in the most tyrannical or at best dictatorial ways, a passivity that encouraged a pathological obsequiousness in the face of the despotic, an abhorrence of the work ethic, a distaste for social discipline, and an intolerance of political difference. In short, Africa was a continent on the periphery of the global stage, too unstable to be taken seriously, too impoverished to be worth the investment that might realize its promise, and if not quite beyond redemption, at least beyond caring about.

The war in the Congo had nothing to do with popular demands for democracy -- the masses had not taken to the streets calling for Kabila's head. Most Congolese, it appeared, were quite happy to accept Kabila's kleptrocracy, as long as it kept within bounds -- rulers, after all, were expected to steal --and after the rapacious kleptocracy of Mobutu, any replacement had to be an improvement, and certainly difficult to exceed. There was no human rights' culture -- small elitist opposition called for free elections, and democratic governance. But its credentials were questionable in many regards. However, in the human rights' culture any voice that decries the abuse of rights and the tyranny of authoritarianism is embraced by democracy advocates, no matter what its motives.

Interestingly, or perhaps dismayingly, it was not until Kabila played the ethnic card -- the presence of Tutees in their midst, although most Tutsis were indigenous Congolese, or at least Congolese to the extent that some 230 different ethnic groupings can claim to be -- that he was able to mobilize the people on his behalf, at least in the western part of the country, and incitements to hatred, vengeance, and murder elicited a far more positive response from the citizenry than exhortations of would-be reformers for an end to corruption, the release of opposition leaders, and the holding of elections.

If one could draw any conclusions from the convulsions of the inter-regional conflict, the most pertinent would be that calls for elections in countries that are patently not ready for them can hamper rather than hasten the advent of democracy. A second conclusion might well be that attempts to "impose" supposedly " free and fair" elections" in countries in which the concept of elections has no meaning, in which democracy itself is alien, in which there are no institutions of civil society, or no civil society to speak of, to develop a culture conducive to the principles of democracy and its emphasis on the primacy of human rights -- although the abuse of human rights is not uncommon in many countries that believe they are democracies -- in which poverty is endemic, illiteracy pervasive, and norms of individual rights theoretical abstractions suggest a ingenuousness that pampers first-world elitism, encourages delusion, and most probably impairs the cause of democracy itself.

The best one can hope for in these countries is a long transition towards democracy, undertaken in incremental steps in line with each country's specific economic, social, cultural and political characteristics, its capacity for development, and its sense of autonomous identity.

Of even greater potential for harm are the criteria that the mature democracies and their development agencies lay down for "first-ever" elections: that they be "free and fair," that they are held under the auspices of an "independent election commission," that all parties have "equal access" to the media, and in the mantra so assiduously reiterated by pro-election groupies all over the world that there is "a level playing-field" -- conditions, one should point out rarely met in most developed democracies that seek, nevertheless, to impose them, under the stern attention of "international monitors," whose task it is to adjudicate what is free, what is fair, what is level, in countries they know little about and in which they spend a couple of weeks at most. Most often, it is the international media with its instantaneous global reach that makes the final determination -- an elections referee of sorts, which is often called upon to revise the score once the game is over.

We are moving from a condition of one-party states to one-state systems, a form of coercive democracy where you qualify for a place in the line-up if you agree to abide to play by the rules drawn up by would-be donor countries, adhere to the economic and social policies they dictate, make their determination of your priorities your priorities, open your fledgling markets to their conglomerates in genuflection to the ineffable wisdom of "free market forces," and surrender to their prognostications of impervious globalization as oracles in the making.


Nor were the devastation of endemic wars the only travails convoluting an ailingAfrica. In the face of overwhelming poverty, exacerbated by AIDS, dysfunctional education, the virtual non-existence of electricity, sanitation, and clean water, rudimentary and unhygienic health care, the continent owed some $227 billion to international creditors, which amounted to about $600 for each person on the continent. Of the 41 most heavily indebted low-income countries in the world, no fewer than 31 were in Africa.

In South Africa, not even to be counted among the most debt-burdened countries, the ANC-led government inherited $15 billion in foreign debt incurred by the former apartheid government, and internal debts amounting to $60 billion. The interest and debt repayment drain on the fiscus -- 20 cents of every rand consumed by the government -- precluded the level of expenditure on education and health and housing that would contribute substantially to the economic upliftment of the masses, and which the masses had come to expect as the liberation dividend to which they were entitled.

But to put matters in perspective, corruption, mismanagement and fraud amounting to an estimated $66 billion was being uncovered by a special investigative unit under the direction of Judge Willem Heath.28 Over 90,000 cases of fraud, corruption, and maladministration at different government levels had been reported by the end of August 1998.

But perhaps of even greater import was the relentless spread of AIDS throughout the sub-Saharan countries. Between 8 per cent and 32 per cent of the populations in these countries were HIV positive.

A full-blown AIDS epidemic was beginning to wreak havoc in South Africa, which, according to a United Nations' report, enjoyed the egregious distinction of having the fastest growing number of people with AIDS in the world, and the second highest number of HIV-infected people in Africa.29

In South Africa, where the disease is increasing exponentially, 40 per cent of adult patients and 30 per cent of paediatric patients in government hospitals suffered from HIV related diseases.30 Country-wide, some 3 million people are HIV positive with an estimated 1,500 new infections daily. Overall, the number of people who were infected with the disease rose from 1 million in 1993 to 3 million in 1997.31 Among adolescents under the age of 16, the rate is estimated at 13 per cent, rising to 20 per cent in the 20-24 age cohort. The 15-25 age group accounted for 60 per cent of new infections. Among school pupils, some 250.000 had the virus, and between 30,000 and 40,000 teachers were similarly infected.32.

About 150,000 of the country's one million civil servants, that is 15 per cent or one in seven, were HIV positive, and the immediate cost to the government in terms of employee benefits, absenteeism, productivity, provision of health care, and recruitment and training costs will put the fiscus under enormous strain, while the cost to the economy as a whole in these same terms would be incalculable, reducing at all levels the human and financial resources necessary for eliminating the socio/economic inequities in the country without which black empowerment would become one more buzz word in the lexicon of catch-phrases.

Nor did these figures take into account the number of "AIDS orphans." In ZwaZulu/Natal alone, estimates put the number at 100,000 cases. This figure for that province alone was expected to rise to 250,000 by the year 2000, and to one million by 2005.33

HIV/AIDS was the second most common cause of death among pregnant women, accounting for 18 per cent of deaths during pregnancy.

Kwa-Zulu/Natal had the highest incidence of the disease, showing an increase from 20 per cent in 1996 to 27 per cent in 1997. The rate of infection in Mpumalanga was 23 per cent, in the Free State 20 per cent, in Gauteng 17 per cent, in the North West 18 per cent, in the Eastern Cape 13 per cent, in the Northern Cape 9 per cent, and in the Western Cape 6 per cent. A survey carried out by the Department of Health found that there had been a fourteenfold increase in HIV prevalence in South Africa in six years. One in 10 adults were living with AIDS.34

Indeed, so grave is the crisis and so possibly devastating its impact on society can be gleaned from the frightening fact that unless the spread of the virus is brought under some measure of control, and the resources allocated to the control of the disease and campaigns to increase public awareness of it at all strata of society, it could see South Africa implode, ravaged by the disease to a point where the social and economic viability of the country itself becomes a question, not of concern but of fact. Why this alarmist picture of the future? Because, if present trends continue unchecked, the average life expectancy in South Africa will drop from 60 years of age in 1998 to 40 years in 2010,35 undermining not only all the health advanced made over the years in terms of life expectancy, mortality rates of infants, children and women, bringing economic growth to a stand still, making development unsustainable, investment in human resource development a waste, the prospects of foreign investment highly improbable, and skewing the use of the country's resources to cope with the breath of the disease and its consequences, and unravelling the social and community infrastructure of the country.

While today more than 1,500 people are infected with AIDS every day, by the year 2010 more than 1, 500 will be dying from AIDS every day, reducing the population growth to zero. At least 650,000 people will die of AIDS-related diseases from 2010 onwards.36

According to AIDS experts, combating tuberculosis (TB) is probably the most cost-effective way to prolong the lives of HIV infected South Africans. TB is a major public health problem in its own right, killing an estimated 1,0000 a month, and causing 86,000 cases of illness a month. Moreover, it is also the dominant opportunistic infection affecting people with AIDS and the leading cause of death among HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa. TB also often sets in during the early stages of HIV infection and hasten dramatically the onset of full-blown AIDS.Without intervention, Southern Africa's HIV epidemic will run predictable course, cutting 10 to 15 years off life expectancy compared to 30 ago, [ what does this translate into in terms of today's, or say 1990 life expectancy rates?] According to the South Africa Revenue Service, up to 35 per cent of South Africa's adults may die of AIDS in the next decade. Rates of active TB will soar as a result of the exponential growth of HIV infection. Already two out of three South Africans are infected with TB, and an estimated 50,000 new cases of AIDS occur every month. The proportion of new cases of people with TB who have HIV as well is 50 per cent or higher. Most of these people develop TB as a result of there having AIDS. These the deadly symbiosis: HIV increases susceptibility to TB; TB in turn compresses the time-span between the onset of HIV and its transmutation into AIDS. Hence, treating TB is, according to health officials, the single most effective thing they can do to prolong the lives of people with HIV. It is, they say, affordable and it works. One estimate suggests that giving people with HIV preventive therapy in the form of a six month course of the drug isoniazid, decreases the risk of developing TB by two-thirds, and hence slows the passage from HIV to AIDS. The problem, as always, are who will identify patients and who will supervise treatment.One of the most formidable problems health officials face is denial. Again, health officials point out that while HIV and AIDS afflict 50 per cent of the people, about 50 per cent are still in denial – but they see some hope on the horizon in the beginnings of public acceptance that there is a problem and they are starting to ask for the information that might help them.37 Of increasing concern to public health officials in Kwa Zulu/ Natal, however, as the disease exacts an increasing toll – 27 per cent of women attending antenatal clinics are HIV positive -- is the claim of traditional healers that they have the cure for AIDS. Thousands of people with AIDS are flocking to traditional healers for a "miracle" cure, in the belief that western medicine has failed them from inevitable death. Besides the insistence of traditional healers that their cures "work," there is a second and perhaps more determining reason for people who carry the disease to turn to traditional medicine for relief. It is affordable, unlike many of the expensive, and apparently ineffective medications that western medicine prescribes.

Even more alarming were the findings of a global survey which found that one out of four South Africans admitted to not being concerned about contracting or spreading HIV/AIDS, despite an increasing awareness of the disease across all age groups. Adding to the urgency with which the problem must be addressed were the additional findings that knowledge about sexually transmitted diseases is almost non-existent – 7 per cent of respondents had never heard of herpes and 27 per cent expressed no concern about being infected.38


In South Africa, as elsewhere, the masses themselves were the problem. When disappointment turns to disillusionment, populist solutions become an antidote for despair. Thus, in August 1998, the ANC NEC decided to separate the posts of provincial leader from that that provincial premier. Whereas in the 1994 elections, the two positions were synonymous, the head of the party's ticket in a province automatically assuming the premiership in provinces in which the ANC held a majority, the 1998 ruling delinked the two. Henceforth, the NEC would appoint premiers, who might or might not be head of the party's ticket in the province or might not even be a member of the ticket itself. In explaining its actions, the ANC said it had a responsibility to "ensure unity within its ranks," and "appoint people on the basis of leadership qualities."39 In three provinces-Free State, Gauteng, and Northern Province-the ANC had run into problems when branches refused to go along with the national leadership's preferred candidates for one or the other posts. Not unexpectedly, the ANC's decision elicited the usual chorus of condemnation from the opposition parties, with the usual accusations of "democratic centralism" emanating from the usual sources.40 "Anyone with faith in the democratic system will be worried by the plan," the Mercury editorialized, "as it appears indicative of the ruling ANC to centralize power wherever possible."41 It allowed, however, that "looking at the move in the most objective way possible, it could be said that the decision will allow the party's national executive committee to prevent obviously unsuitable people being chosen for the premierships, no matter how 'popular' they might be." Nevertheless, it concluded that the ANC executive was "obviously keen to put its own men and women into the powerful premier positions and may be willing to meddle with the democratic process to achieve that, " and that "the members of the provincial legislatures represent the will of the electorate and should be left to democratically elect the premiers." However, a far different view was taken by one much respected political commentator:The ANC (he argued) will be doing the correct and logical thing when it handpicks premiers for the provinces it wins in next year's elections.This should be extended to other key positions in the provinces and town councils to stymie the political careerists who use populism to sway restless and gullible masses.What also gives credence to the decision that premiers be appointed is the elections mayhem in the provinces. The results of the elections in the Free State may be a victory for democracy, but they are a disaster for the country.42In the run-up to the national and local elections, black political parties did not have the necessary brain-power, or just suitable bodies in abundance. All comers with names in the black community were accepted, even white political organizations welcomed any black face and appointed them to national, provincial, and local positions. Now we are paying the price.How can we explain a situation in which a mayor stabs another person to death over a woman? Then we have a mayor who is caught in a diamond trap. We have a MEC for Health whose only qualification is that he was a former male nurse.The democratic process takes its course when we elect MPs, members of provincial legislatures, and town councillors. From then on the party takes over. It must give us officials with the appropriate skills and motivation if the ruling party is to give us a future we can be proud of.43

The issues raised here are fundamental: do you tamper with "democracy" in order to save democracy? Is freedom unfettered, bound only by the provisions of the constitution, or must degrees of freedom be calculated with capacity for responsibility and accountability. If accountability is alien to the masses, indeed, if they have been constantly extolled to be neither accountable or responsible in the name of attaining freedom, how is one to expect an instant metamorphous where accountability and responsibility become the barometers of freedom itself.Furthermore, in what can best be regarded as a well-meaning attempt to ensure the quality of provincial premiers, the ANC is perhaps creating a situation that will exacerbate provincial tensions by creating two poles of power in provinces it controls in which the provincial leadership will continually snipe at the legislative leadership in the pursuit of "personal agendas underscored by greed and the lust for power" -- the very "sins" the ANC decision was designed to excoriate in the first place. Nor can one simply eliminate "the lust for power" by executive decree. One of the by-products of any system of governance, whether totalitarianism or democratic -- is this so-called lust for power, a generic predisposition of the human condition, one that has not proven particularly amenable to attempts to stamp it out over the course of human history in the name of utopias that in the end destroy what they had intended to defend.Indeed, the people's concepts of power, the principles that underpin it, and the conditions under which it is exercised were the subject of an opinion survey conducted by the Helen Suzman Foundation.44The survey was used to probe attitudes on a possible ANC two-thirds majority in the 1999 elections, a target set by the ANC's Secretary General, Kgalema Monlanthe, who spoke of using the unilateral power of constitutional amendment, which such a majority would bestow, to bring such independent bodies as the Reserve Bank, the auditor general, the provincial attorneys general, and the judiciary under tighter political control.When Monlanthe's ambitions for the party provoked a political backlash, both President Mandela and Deputy President Mbeki distanced themselves from his remarks, pledging that the ANC did not want to alter the constitution in any fundamental way. Neither, however discounted the ANC's wish to make some "technical " amendments to the constitution and neither disavowed the notion of a two-thirds majority. The ANC now speaks in terms of an "overwhelming majority," as if it did not already enjoy one.One other way, the ANC might achieve a working two-thirds majority would be to form some kind of post-election coalition with the IFP and the PAC. However, when respondents were asked whether it would be a good or bad thing for the ANC to obtain such a majority, only 49 per cent of voters thought it would be a good thing and 45 per cent were opposed, compared to the almost 63 per cent of the vote that the party won in the 1994 elections. Huge majorities of Whites, Coloureds, and Indians were opposed while 28 per cent of Africans were also opposed. Among ANC voters, 12 per cent, representing some 1.5 million voters, expressed reservations about the ANC having a majority of this size. Support for the idea of a two-thirds majority came primarily from the youngest, least educated, the unemployed and urban squatters, indicating a divide between the haves and the have-nots that increasingly is the fulcrum of South African politics.In the opposition-ruled provinces of Kwa-Zulu/Natal and the Western Cape, support for an ANC two-thirds majority collapsed to just 15 per cent and 25 per cent respectively, and in the ANC controlled Northern Cape support fell to 26 per cent-a result the survey analysts interpreted as a sign that the province was about to defect from the ANC.Another question pointed out that a two-thirds majority vote for the ANC would give the ANC unilateral power to change the constitution. The number of voters who believed this would be a bad thing jumped to 60 per cent, and the number believing it to be a good thing dropped to 29 per cent. Even African voters were sceptical --53 per cent opposing and 37 per cent continuing to support a two-thirds majority for the ANC. Nor were ANC voters over-enthused about the idea --51 per cent favored such an outcome, but a solid 39 per cent did not. Support for a two-thirds majority collapsed in the provinces that had been the staunchest supporters of the ANC in 1994. In the Northern Province where the ANC won 93 per cent of the vote in 1994, support for a nation-wide two-thirds majority dropped to 42 per cent when the constitutional implications were pointed out, and in the Eastern Cape where the ANC had amassed 84 per cent of the vote in 1994, it fell to 30 per cent. Among those who did not want the ANC to have a two-thirds majority, 27 per cent said "a strong opposition is vital" and a further 11 per cent cited their fears of a one-party state. Ironically, Africans --31 per cent -- were most likely to state their belief in the need for a strong opposition, contrary to the stereotypical conceptions of Africans' supposed penchant for one-party states. Moreover, while only 39 per cent of ANC voters were opposed to the idea of the party having the unilateral power to change the constitution, 5I per cent expressed nervousness about the possible results of such an outcome.In short, the survey analysts concluded that at least half of ANC voters distrusted their own party's intentions, if the party was given too much power. When the question was put in the form of respondents believing that the ANC might get a two-thirds majority, only 60 per cent of African voters said they would be more likely to vote for the ANC, in contrast to the 85 per cent who actually did in 1994, and the racial minorities, previously ANC voters, would desert it in huge numbers.A final question on the matter of black unity revealed an almost even divide. While 48 per cent were in favor of black unity, 45 per cent were opposed. Most opposed were Coloureds, Asians and Whites, but 63 per cent of Africans liked the idea. With regard to party breakdown, 24 per cent of ANC voters rejected the idea as did 44 per cent of IFP voters, 38 per cent supporting the idea; the UDM split 50 per cent to 49 per cent in favor, and PAC voters were most enthusiastic about the idea, 54 per cent being for it and 32 per cent against. But if pollsters and pundits were reading all kinds of dark portents into the survey findings, the ANC were close to dismissive. What party, it argued, would prepare for an election not wanting to maximize its vote? And who ever heard of a party begging its supporters to vote for the opposition so that parliament would enjoy the dubious benefits of a strong opposition, especially when the opposition parties were more concerned with protecting the privileges their constituencies had accumulated in the past on the backs of the disenfranchised rather than with promoting equality and equity for the newly enfranchised? Was it to ask its supporters to stay at home on election day, thus re-disenfranchising themselves, so that their former oppressors could further muddy the waters and employ endless delaying tactics in order to forestall the economic and social changes that were germane to genuine transformation?


The debacle in the Congo and the unravelling of Central and Southern Africa coincided with the unravelling of the global economy. First, collapse of financial markets in Japan engulfed all of emerging Asia, and the economies once heralded as the "Asian Tigers," the economies the rest of the developing world were told to emulate -- South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and, most Indonesia followed suit in domino-like fashion. The anachronisms of "crony" capitalism were suddenly discovered, although they had been there to see all along, vision blurred not by myopia but by rapacious greed spurred by what seemed to be the endless prospects of quick profits and fast bucks. South Africa, the most sophisticated emerging market in Africa, priding itself on a first world-stock exchange and financial service institutions it believed could hold their own with the best, was sucked into the raging vortex. When Russia found itself in the position of more or less having to declare itself bankrupt, its coffers empty, banks penurious, foreign reserves a pittance, and political uncertainty aggravating the financial crisis and finally overtaking it with the implosion of the country's weak political infrastructure, global economic meltdown became the catch-phrase for global recession, and the and, always vulnerable to market forces and the shenanigans of wily speculators as South Africa struggled to reintegrate itself into the world economy with the demise of apartheid, depreciated in value several times over, finally leap-frogging the six rand to the dollar benchmark, almost halving its value in six years. In one week, the JSE lost 17 per cent of its value. The price of gold fell to its lowest level in 19 years.45 Growth projections for 1997 were in the region of 0.5 per cent. Some 40 per cent of world GDP was in recession, with more to follow.46Africa in general, with the Central African crisis unresolved and threatening to split the DRC in two, with the eastern part of the country under rebel control and the prospects of a prolonged civil war in the offing, dragging countries other countries into the conflict in one way or another, and putting Thabo Mbeki's grand of an African Renaissance into cold storage , at least for the moment, was vulnerable to the reverberations of what seemed to be an impending economic meltdown. South Africa, in particular, had already contracted the 'contagion' disease, although not yet terminally infected. Nevertheless, the disease had taken its toll. Industrial shares fell 45 per cent in five months (from April to September 1998), the rand 45 per cent since the beginning of the year, and interest rates 45 per cent since June.47 The exodus of foreign capital continued with a doggedness that resisted every effort to curtail it – the dumping of bonds wiped out all the net foreign investment in the market, and by September, net disinvestment had reached $I billion,48 causing a shortage of liquidity in the financial markets,. Business confidence, not unexpectedly fell, but the drop to a twelve year low indicated a level of uncertainty not even surpassed during the most tense days leading up to the elections in 1994 when for one brief moment it seemed that the negotiated settlement would fall apart and the country would be engulfed in a vortex of violence.49The impact on homeowners was most severe. In six months, the interest rate on home loans jumped 6 points. For a middle-class person who had struggled and worked his way up the economic ladder would find that translated into an increase of $170 in monthly repayments on a $60,000 house mortgaged over 20 years.50 One estimate put the number of possible defaults at 30 per cent.51Or consider the case of a $2,500 a month salaried earner. Taxes take approximately $830; his bond on a $40,000 house absorbs another $660 . This leaves approximately $1000 a month for hire purchase items/insurance ($250), food ($330), and a balance of $400 for clothing, school fees, rates, electricity, and entertainment. However, the increase in bond rates raises the monthly payment to $800, which means the family has to find another $140 a month to make ends meet.52There is still a tendency in South Africa to associate middle class with being white. However, a dramatic change in class relations has taken place in the last eight years, with the emergence of a rapidly -growing black middle-class. In 1990 1 per cent of blacks were in its Living Standards Measure (LSM) groups 7 and 8, and another 7 per cent were in LSM 6, for a total of 8 per cent. In 1997, those figures were 7 per cent in the former groups and 15 per cent in the latter, for a total of 22 per cent.53 But more important are the raw numbers. The number of blacks in the LSM groups come to roughly 4 million people, which is equal to the total number of whites in the country. Hence, a downward spiral in the economy is likely to have a harsher impact on the emerging black middle-class, a necessary prerequisite for the consolidation of democracy, than on its white counterpart. An economic eclipse that damages the position of the black middle class or hampers its growth can have nothing but adverse effects on both race relations and the outlook for transformation, thus playing into the hands of the populists with their simplistic and ultimately destructive prescriptions for the country's ills.Also among the hard pressed were some of the country's major black empowerment groups, raising questions regarding the financial structures underpinning black empowerment acquisitions. If interest rates continue at their current levels, black-controlled companies listed on the JSE will find it difficult to repay their loans. Some economists warned that the present structure of black empowerment was vulnerable and that the companies could revert to their previous white owners.54 One of the companies likely to be hardest hit would be Johnic, the epitome of black empowerment. Share prices, once quoted on the JSE at $12 a share early in 1998 had dropped to $7 a share in September, and if they stay at that level for the next 18 months, it's black owners could not be able to meet their loan agreements. Failure to do so could see Johnic revert to being a white owned company. Johnic must start repaying the $230 million loan used to buy out the 35 per cent stake Anglo-American had in the company within 18 months.55In terms of the deal struck between the National Empowerment Consortium (NEC), Johnic's controlling shareholder and the lending institutions, the group's share price has to rise about 14 or 15 per cent a year to reach a level that would allow the black shareholders to repay their loans and maintain control of Johnic. In terms of the deal, shares could be bought for as little as $50 (50 shares at a dollar each), on the condition that the remaining balance of $10 per share would be paid by the year 2000. Currently, shares are trading at a little under $7 and must trade at between $12 and $13 for Johnic to meet its target. At its peak, early in 1998, shares traded at a little over $12. Ikageng /Johnic share administrator chairperson Hazel Ralefata told City Press that "…we will continue to pray for the market to turn around. If things do not normalize by the end of the year, it will be cause of concern. But, we have to be optimistic about the future."56  "She is going to be praying for a long, long time." according to one economist.57


The Reserve Bank responded in the manner it was accustomed to: it raised interest rates, and commercial banks in turn raised their rates from 24 per cent to 25.5. Mortgage rates followed suit increasing from 22 per cent to 23.5 per cent, although rates were already at untenable levels, and the new South Africa, on whose fortunes so many of its impoverished citizens had pinned their hopes, as if God compensates for godliness, stumbled into recession. Unemployment, which even in the "best" of times was decreasing as companies "downsized" in an attempt to make themselves more competitive in the mean terrain of the global market, became endemic, the first world sector shuddered under the strains of a greatly devalued stock market, growth stalled, looked into the abyss, and finally, almost pliantly stepped in; per capita income which had been falling in the latter years of apartheid began to fall again, its impact this time being even more remorselessly felt by blacks, and this time there was no noble cause to cushion the suffering. The myth that only apartheid stood in the way of some miraculous economic turnabout was shattered. South Africans, to their surprise, found that they were no longer special.


Not only no longer special, but the target of the type of criticism from international monetary watchdogs usually reserved for the continent's "bad boys." Commenting on the Reserve Bank's handling of the crisis, the IMF was less than complimentary: The bank, it said, "may have risked turning a 'contagion problem' related to the collapse of Asian markets into one specific to South Africa."The bank had "exacerbated" pressures on the rand in early May by intervening in the open and spot markets [ ] and pursuing "an uneven monetary policy through the repro rate [] "58It was essential that the authorities maintain a "a consistently tight monetary policy to dampen pressure on the rand" and avoid further intervention in foreign exchange.59 In short, rather than waste its scarce foreign exchange (which covered less than four months of imports) in a fruitless attempt to prop up the rand, the bank was being pushed to restrict the money supply, which would lead to an inevitable increase in interest rates, and presumably attract the flows of capital scouring world markets in search of the highest return. The IMF also took the government to task for not moving fast enough to implement GEAR and for not adopting a "bolder approach" with regard to privitization.. An accelerated implementation of GEAR was a matter of "critical importance as world markets have identified the slow economic growth and high unemployment as a major source of vulnerability." Perhaps the IMF did not see the contradictions in its own prescriptions – a monetary policy that made impossible the implementation of the fiscal policy it simultaneously advocated. As regards the IMF's admonition that the government cut its wage bill and with all due haste, the reality is that the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Equity Act make haste improbable, if not impossible. For even though the government has had some success in retrenching civil servants, most importantly by deep-freezing the non-existent and the equally redundant if not equally dead supernumeraries, and by putting a lid on all new appointments ( a 9.8 per cent reduction between March '95 and March'98)60, the civil service wage bill, nevertheless, continued to escalate as the additional costs of successive wage increases far outweighed the savings incurred through lay-offs. ( from 45.6 per cent of non-interest spending in 1996/'97 to 49.5 per cent in 1998/'99, giving South Africa the not-much-sought-after honor of being among the world's biggest spenders on civil service salaries)61 Adding grist to the mill of the wage spiral, the government personnel cost will rise 8.8 per cent in fiscal 1998/'99, a figure primarily reflecting wage settlements reached, no doubt, without any consideration being given to the forthcoming elections in 1999. The increases are, not surprisingly, way out of kilter with economic indices. But fiscal restraint has its limits, especially when it serves a good cause, which any ruling party with any rudiments of political instinct, deems re-election to be. And as if that were not enough, homeowner allowances for almost one quarter million government employees will increase by almost $90 million due to the rise in interest rates, under the terms of an agreement the state and public service unions signed in 1997.62


In the face of the IMF's rebukes, the financial establishment closed ranks. Not a word of criticism of Stals. Had Tito Mboweni been Governor of the Reserve Bank at the time, one can only imagine the torrents of disparagement that would have undoubtedly followed. When the government announced that Mboweni would succeed Stals at the Reserve Bank, the howls of protest from the country's white monied interests could be heard in the nether regions of the land. He was a political appointee ( as if no other appointee had ever been); he would compromise the independence of the bank ( as if all governors did not collude in some way with the government's fiscal authorities); he had no banking experience ( as if this in itself was a sine qua non for the job, and certainly something that could not be acquired in a one year's apprenticeship to the governor – unless, of course, one had to begin as a bank teller to acquire the necessary expertise); he was a head- honcho in the ANC, and hence a tool of its intention to impose its will on the bank ( as if other governing party i.e. the National Party had not attempted to do so for 40 odd years); He didn't have the approval of the Bank's board ( as if that was necessary); He would not be uncompromising, like Stals, in keeping inflation down (as if that was the country's first priority); He was an affirmative action appointment (as if talent, intuition, nerve and street-smarts counted for nothing); He liked designer clothes (as if only sackcloth should be the preferred clothing of the governor of the Reserve Bank of an emerging market). One of the markets' "insightful" weeklies, Finance Week, provided its readers with its own succinct analysis: Some say [read its editorial] that [Mboweni's] is so egotistical and enamoured by a limousine lifestyle that he will not want to be seen as radical in the great banking halls of the world. So he will put behind him the T-Trueformed, will quickly embrace the values and emulate the urbanity of the boardroom. It's instinctive of the politician to find appropriate values when and where they are needed. Maybe there is some truth in that assessment.63Prognostications on the basis of Mboweni's presumed lifestyle propensities aside, the IMF itself was not without its own travails. In the year since the start of the Asian crisis in September 1997, the IMF dispersed $120 billion in international bale-outs. One year later, all the countries it had attempted to rescue from the financial holes they had dug themselves into with such careless abandon were in worse shape. IMF prescriptions, or other IMF conditions for loans, had only exacerbated the economic woes of the countries in question. Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, and Russia, rather than being out of intensive care, were still struggling to survive on IMF respirators that were themselves experiencing severe power outages. After its massive dispersion of funds, the IMF had less than $10 billion on hand to contain future contingencies, and found itself going cap in hand to tap a line of credit to the tune of $24 billion from the ultimate lender of last resort, a faceless entity operating under the suitably anonymous nomenclature General Arrangement to Borrow (GAB).

In terms of policy, the organization, once the oracle before which African countries in particular, bowed in trepidation was becoming the focus for some severe criticism. To prescribe tight monetary policy for any one country which leads to higher interest rates, cuts in government expenditure and a reduction in consumer demand might be the correct "treatment" for the ailing patient, but when every patient swallows the same economic medicine at the same time, the result is a collective collapse: deflation angina, and unless an antidote is quickly found a world-wide slowdown further hardens the global economy's arteries and recession precedes the funeral procession to the graveyard for dead economies.Moreover, there is an increasingly invoked view that an IMF bale-out does little for the poor and the underclass's in the stricken country, but is of most assistance to the first world creditor banks and currency speculators whose self-serving actions are often responsible for the country's dire predicament in the first place. According to this analysis, as long as first-world banks and investors can count on an IMF bale-out to countries that go into an economic free-fall, they have a safety parachute that enables them to make risky loans and investments without having to worry about the consequences of their financial transactions going wrong, and the countries who can rely on the IMF as the lender of last resort have little incentive to reform their often crony-oriented banking systems and address the corruption that corrodes their economies.


There were of course other options: drop interest rates, for without a steep drop in rates, economic growth and job creation will remain mirages on a distant horizon, optical illusions on the perimeters of space. The more per capita income drops, the greater the loss of confidence in a shrinking economy, and the more it shrinks, the more rapid the net capital outflow until, in obedience to the rules of an unregulated and unfeeling market, the outflow finally breaks through the cracks in the financial dykes and becomes a flood, carrying whatever is left of the market in the deluge that follows.

Exaggerated perhaps. But not if the developed countries do not recognize the gravity of the situation in emerging markets, which they will probably do only when the contagion infects their own economies.A drop in interest rates, no market intervention to "rescue" the rand -- and if policy makers haven't already wised-up to the fact that there is nothing they can do to "save" the rand, then they haven't yet grasped one of the fundamental rules of the global game: you control what's within your capacity to control; what you cannot control you leave to the fates of the gods – or in this case to the vagaries of the market. Once you start tailoring your responses to the volatility of short term capital flows, you've surrendered your economy to the whims of impersonal forces driven by the so-called psychology of the market, a metaphysical rationalization for the irrational.


A survey conducted by the Bureau for Economic Research, indicated that consumer confidence in the third quarter of 1998 fell sharply, reversing all gains made to the three weeks to June as a result of the increase in interest rates and continued volatility in the markets.64 The decline in confidence, however, was decidedly asymmetrical. Black consumer confidence remained largely unchanged, while white consumer confidence dropped significantly.White consumer confidence dropped 25 index points, the largest fall since the fourth quarter of 1985, when the prime rate also increased to 25 per cent and the rand depreciated 50 per cent against the dollar in the aftermath of PW's Botha's Rubicon speech. In contrast, black consumer confidence remained unaffected by volatility in the markets and increasing interest rates."Black consumers," according to the report, "expect a continued improvement in the economic performance and their financial position over the next twelve months. The majority also regarded the present as the right time to buy durable goods like household furniture and equipment" Again, in contrast, a sizeable majority of white consumers expect the economy's performance and their own financial position to deteriorate over the next year. The number expecting a deterioration in the economy increased from 37 per cent in the second quarter to 59 per cent in the third.Explaining the divergence in consumer confidence, the BER said it was probably due to "the difference in the impact that high interest rates had on high and low income earnings." The survey results indicated that there was a sharp drop in the confidence of higher income households – predominantly white – while those of lower income households – predominantly black – remained stable. Thus, the report concludes:A larger share of the expenditure of high income households goes towards paying monthly mortgage repayments.The hike in the mortgage rate by 3.5 percentage points in July, therefore, severely dented the discretionary disposable income of high income households.The financial market instability since the middle of May might also have heightened uncertainty amongst higher income earners and blacks who have recently moved into the higher income groups will also be similarly affected.In contrast, the increase in interest rates, had no direct effect on low income households, as the majority do not make use of formal financial services.Evidence of the meaningless of the banking system in the lives of most black South Africans was presented by the Alliance for Micro-Enterprise Development Practitioners at the annual conference of the South African National Nongovernmental Organization Coalition in September 1998. Only 37 per cent of South Africans, the Alliance reported had access to banking and financial services, reinforcing the BER's conclusion that rising interest rates don't have much of a direct impact on most black South Africans. Consider also that 19 million South Africans, representing almost 50 per cent of the population, are "poor" in the sense that their incomes fall below the critical "poverty line" – defined in terms of basic consumption needs. In addition, the Gini coefficient, which measures the inequality of income distribution is the second highest in the world.65 Consider also the behavior of the rate of inflation. In August, the rise in interest rates was largely responsible for pushing the rate up to 7.6 per cent from 6.6 per cent in July.66 But while the core rate – the indicator the Reserve Bank uses for monetary policy purposes which excludes mortgages rates, certain fresh and frozen foods and value added tax -- also rose to 7.6 per cent in August, the increase was from a 7.2 per cent level in July.From July to August, the overall consumer price index (CPI) rose 1.1 per cent. Housing costs contributed 0.8 per cent, transport contributed 0.2 per cent, due mainly to an increase of 11c/litre in the petrol price. Food prices, however, helped to keep a lid on the rise in inflation, with a month to month fall of 0.2 per cent. Household consumables also declined in prices. In October, the price of petrol is expected to decrease by at least 10c per litre.What do these data, taken in aggregate, say? On the one hand the obvious: that there are two economies: one for the better-off, and one for the less fortunate. They also strongly suggest that the economy for the more affluent is far more vulnerable to market forces, whether in the form of the impact of higher interest they must pay on their mortgages, the higher prices they must pay for the imported goods they are accustomed to buying, the value of their assets, whether in pension funds or stocks and shares ,in the face of capital flight, currency depreciation, and global volatility. These are considerations which are far from the minds of the 50 per cent below the poverty line and the economy of the informal sector – the only part of the economy that is growing. Here, conditions are close to the ground; the basics for survival are the preoccupation of day-to-day living, how to procure them the consuming concern. What they need to survive is least vulnerable to market fluctuations, whether in the and or in interest rates. What they need, above all are jobs, which will not materialize without economic growth, which will not materalize without lower interest rates.

Thus, by lowering interest rates, the Reserve Bank would open the way to job creation, alleviate not only the unacceptable levels of unemployment, but also reducing that component of crime attributable to people's needs to acquire the means for survival one way or another, ease the pressure on homeowners, give a boost to the construction industry, already sinking in the quicksand of increasing uncertainty and lack of confidence about the future.67 Allow the rand to find its own level in the market and make no interventions. Undoubtedly, imports would rise sharply in price, but this would be compensated for by a lower volume of imports and a higher level of exports, thus improving the country's balance of payments and adding to its foreign reserves, and if the price to be paid is higher inflation, even double digit inflation, that may be the inevitable trade-off that has to be made for dealing with the country's overriding problem -- unemployment -- identified by blacks and whites alike as being the most important issue facing the country.68Even the venerable Milton Friedman, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his contribution to determining the overriding role monetary policy played in regulating the economy and his emphasis on interest rates and, more importantly, on the money supply as the key variables in policy decisionmaking, comes out on the side of letting the rand find its own level in the market, free of reserve bank interference, and fine-tuning the money supply to bring interest rates down:My view for emerging smaller countries [he argues] is that either of two exchange rate arrangements make sense. They should have either a fixed exchange rate. Or they should have a truly floating exchange rate.I would certainly advise your central bank governor simply to follow monetary policies appropriate to the domestic economy and let the exchange rate go wherever it wants to go.69No country, he concludes, with a truly floating exchange rate, has had an international financial crisis. In the fiefdoms of monetary policymaking, this means throwing the conventional nostrums out the window. Some years ago, it was argued in The End of History70 that with the collapse of communism and the triumph of capitalism, the battle for "ideas" was over, and that in that sense we had arrived at the cul de sac of history itself. The fact that such a preposterous hypothesis could be even taken seriously, never mind it being the subject of countless conferences, seminars, workshops and reams of befuddling gibberish, is perhaps as good an indicator as any, that the more we know, the less we learn.


Globalisation we were told, and the onward march of the free market, guided by the mysterious, perhaps even divine wisdom of the Invisible Hand, had made nation-states virtually irrelevant, and as we all queued up to apply for our visas to enter this new global village, where the pastures were greener, the land more fertile, and there was room for all to flourish. All this is, as recent events so vividly illustrate, an extension of the end-of -history hype, erroneous, subversive in the sense of lulling us into a sense of post-modern insouciance, the lethargy of the Lotus-eaters. The world waits with apprehensive anticipation to see how Alan Greenspan, chairman of the United States Federal Reserve Bank, will act. Which in itself is a sufficient commentary on who is the ultimate arbiter of what's good for the world, never mind individual countries, of who should suffer the consequences of the fallout of decisions made by rapacious speculators, opportunistic financial institutions, and countries who have become old-hands at manipulating the IMF and their likes – borrowing heavily puts the onus for repayment , not on the borrower but on the lender. For the threat of large-scale default with the "contagion" it spreads, is the best weapon borrowers have for further assistance to preclude economic meltdown; a form of blackmail, where the continued viability of an interdependent world economy and the instantaneous dissemination of information makes the strong beholden to the weak. Even in the United States, unchallenged in its role as the global economy's financial policemen, Greenspan's decisions will reflect US interests – in this case how best to balance the country's vulnerability to deflation in markets that are of most concern to it, that are destinations for its exports against the risks of inflation at home that would result from increasing the money supply hereby triggering a reduction in interest rates. It is universally agreed -- as if universal agreement on anything these days counted for much in a world in which the capacity to produce instantaneous information on any issue at any point far outweighs the capacity of its recipients to assimilate it -- that the concomitant domino effects that would follow would save many countries from their current free-falls into recession. Why then should South Africa leave its economic fate in the hands of one person, or for that matter, the unelected Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Bank which makes its decisions on rates reduction on the basis of what's best for the United States, not on the basis of what is best for South Africa, on the basis of how deflation in many parts of the world would impinge on American interests and possible exposure to the deflation virus, on the basis of what's good for America is good for the rest of the world, the latter an indicator of the hubris of a country which has had to suffer the least, and whose response to addressing the increasing disparities in world inequities is to cut the relatively small percentage of its GDP it contributes in aid to distressed nations struggling to emerge from centuries of oppression and exploitation at the hands of their now would-be tutors.Adherence to the American/IMF dogma on markets not will make South Africa a more attractive place for American fixed capital investment – that hope has long been consigned to the cyber bin of other dreams, although still secretly harbored in some quarters – and Uriah Heep-type responses to what amount to edicts emanating from Washington, will do nothing to advance the South African cause. South Africa, if the African Renaissance it so passionately espouses is ever to become little more than one more pipe-dream conceived in wishful thinking and promulgated71 with ardor rather than conviction, must assert an independence commensurate with its potential, not wait, cap in hand, for The Word to be handed down from the Washington Oracle. Indeed, if we were all part of that mythical global village, who it should be asked, appointed the headman, or was it a matter of the biggest boy being the bully on the block.( Former national security advisor Zbigniew Brezinski refers to America's allies and friends as "vassals and tributaries," and argues the case for a grand geostrategy that would " prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, keep the tributaries pliant and protected, and keep the barbarians from coming together."72 And David Rothkopf, a former senior member of the Clinton administration, in a burst of moral fervor and patriotic humility was moved to write that "Americans should not deny the fact that of all the nations in the world, theirs is the most just and the best model for the future." 73 The proposition that we have reached the end of history, it seems still has its adherents, history, of course, somehow becoming synonymous with the American destiny.)

Indeed, when Greenspan made the "by-the-way" acknowledgement before the US Senate budget on 22 September 1998 that reserve bank policymakers were fully aware of the widening financial crisis that had spread from Asia to the rest of the world and its impact on the US economy ("Deteriorating foreign economies and their spill-over to domestic markets have increased the p[possibility that the slowdown in the growth of the American economy will be more than sufficient to hold inflation in check.")74, financial analysts profoundly proclaimed that this was the clearest indication yet that Greenspan would fight the prospect of a spreading recession by lowering US interest rates. Asian markets soared, some of the capital that had fled South Africa in search of safer or more lucrative rewards returned to the JSE, and the rand recovered to close the day's trading at R5.8 to the dollar – the "symbolic" R6.0 to the dollar benchmark had been breached, and in the euphoria that followed many market analysts predicted a quick recovery, overlooking the fact that not too long ago an exchange rate of R5.0 to the dollar was cause for the market to develop a severe case of the jitters.

In the event, when Greenspan did make his "momentous" decision, he cut the Fed's prime rate 0.25 per cent, well below anticipations and already well discounted in the markets. The result: "An immense cloud of despondency hung over local markets as the JSE all share index took a further 3.337 per cent tumble….and the rand once again slid relentlessly against the dollar, breaking through the R6 barrier."75 So much for euphoria and its afterglow.

This is not to say that many of its monetary and fiscal objections are not laudable: they are, but they should be undertaken for their own sake because they promote a prudent running of the country's affairs and thus facilitate the larger transformation that is germane to the successful implementation of the RDP, not in the hope that they will attract foreign investment. As in so many things, South Africans are prone to shift the burden for their various predicaments to others, and in the misplaced role of victim to shift responsibility for the remedy of these predicaments from themselves to others.

One can see this propensity at work during the current "world" crisis. Globalization is here to stay, Thabo Mbeki informs the citizenry. The crisis South Africa faces is not of its own making; rather it is a case of South Africa being caught in the fallout following the collapse of the Asian markets. The "Asian Tigers," which before their ignominious implosions were the IMF's models of probity to be emulated by all emerging markets, were now harshly condemned for the laxity of their banking systems, and a new phrase--"crony capitalism"-- was coined to describe their disgrace. They were put in quarantine for the contagion they could spread. But the contagion did spread, and hence South Africa's dilemmas. ( In one of its less restrained moments, that most restrained of organizations, the IMF, gushed that "in [Southeast Asia], the region is poised to extend its success into the twenty-first century and governments still have a major role in driving this process" This confidence was rooted in "the region's strong macroeconomic principles, in [Southeast Asia's] tradition of, and commitment to, efficient allocation of investment, and in the widespread belief that the external environment would continue to be supportive." 76 Less than a year later, the IMF decried Asia's "fundamentals" as severely wanting. The crisis, it argued, was "mostly home-grown.")

Commentary shifted focus: no longer was attention drawn to the fact that South Africa was already in crisis before "the" crisis. Now there was an all-encompassing explanation for everything that went wrong, ranging from the collapse of Bafana-Bafana in the World Cup to the ineffectiveness of GEAR. The perils of globalization. Global convulsions that South Africa could only watch in dismay, as they cleaned out its stock exchange, played havoc with its currency, and lurched the country toward recession, but could not hold at bay. Caught in the back wash, the country clung to its survival raft, surfing the billowing waves of financial crashes, riding the cascading floods, holding on for dear life. But who could blame it if it fell off? At least, unlike others, it had not drowned.

But globalization is coming in for the kind of scrutiny heretofore the glamour associated with it precluded. The herd dicovered that unfettered capitalism is not the panacea for the world's economic ills; indeed that it has a penchant to punish the weak and reward the strong; that rather than eliminating imbalances and inequities among nations, it tends to do the opposite, increasing income differentials rather than diminishing them. No one takes issue with the fact that globalism is with us to stay; what is, however, less clear is how to regulate, in an information -saturated age guided by electronic radar that decode stress calls as automatic instructions to exploit rather than to assist, financial flows that do not find their way into wealth-creating activities but into profit-taking opportunities, the system becomes dysfunctional.

In the longer course of events, if South Africa continues to depend upon inflows of short term capital, which has no commitment other than to take advantage of whatever quick-profit opportunities the markets offer and is footloose to trawl international markets in search of such opportunities, then the country is placing itself in a permanent state of vulnerability and indecent exposure to uncertainty, and guarantees that the conditions for sustainable growth will always wither on the vine of voracious capitalism.

Like it or not, the key to growth lies in dealing with the structural impediments to growth. It must generate domestic savings i.e. curb consumption that is debt -financed to finance long-term fixed capital investment. With a savings ratio well-below the level for countries at comparable levels of development, South Africa seems to believe that it can attract the foreign capital to compensate for its own spendthrift ways. In other words, development will be painless, South Africa can continue to indulge itself in paroxysm of self-indulgence, in the naïve belief that the capital accrued out of the savings generated in other countries because of their thrift will by some eluctable logic find its way to South Africa. It must differentiate between the conditions that attract short term capital flows and long term flows. The conditions for the former already exist; they are an impediment to creating the conditions for the latter.

Indeed, one disturbing manifestation of the attitudes that make the former necessary emerges in a study which indicates that crime is not only committed by the desperate and needy, but increasingly by well-off young people who merely indulge in it for the instant gratification of having the things they believe they need to make life worth living. At the top of their list of consumer "needs": smart cars -- not for them your work-a-day Ford Corollas but the much coveted BMWs -- designer clothes, and "good looking" women, and they will have them at any price.77 Consumerism has given rise to an attitude among the young that they deserve what they want. You don't work to buy possessions, you simply take possession of them.("Girls don't want boyfriends who don't have money. They want you to be mobile and to have cash. If you can't afford it , then you steal it. If I steal a car and drive to a party with my girlfriend, everybody will go 'what a car he's driving' and every girl will wish to be in love with me.")78

Labor practices are among the most restrictive in the world. The Employment Equity Act and the Labour Relations Act are models of progressive legislation and of a deep-rooted resolution on the part of government and trade unions that their will be no going back to the "bad old days" when many businesses exploited black labor to perpetuate white privilege. But the scope of the provisions in both acts may defeat the very purposes for which they were enacted: you cannot protect labor if there are no jobs to protect. Provisions that require long and cumbersome procedures before an employee can be retrenched – not that employees should not have adequate protections; annual minimum leave of 21 days which in addition to the profligate number of public holidays guarantees that the economy is idle for almost 6 weeks during the working year; extending the circumstances under which strike action may be resorted to and permitting "sympathy" strikes by workers in industries not involved in labor disputes; stringent requirements for making the composition of work forces representative of the population i.e. for affirmative action, again with reporting and inspection provisions that entail higher administration costs, are a disincentive to employers to hire people when in many cases a machine can do the job more efficiently --and no disgruntlement.79

A feature of the global economy as we enter the final years of a century not particularly distinguished for its regard for human life, is that technology has in fact made human labor replaceable as a factor of production in ever-increasing areas of economic activity. One third of the eligible work force in the world is either unemployed or under-employed80, that is, there are one billion people spread across the globe who cannot provide the wherewithal for their own survival or the survival of their families. Nor will they ever be in a position to do so. Economic growth is increasingly of the non job-creating kind. The problem the world faces as it straddles the cusp of the 21st century is what to do with people.

While South Africa pays the usual lip-service to there being a global economy, which has in a manner usurped some of the functions of sovereign nation-states, it does so with what would be categorized as a bi-polar disposition in psychiatric parlance. Perhaps this is an inevitable consequence of coming into being as a sovereign nation with a constitution that must certainly rank among the best in terms of the protections it guarantees its citizens, just at a time when long-held notions of sovereignty and national independence were being increasingly called into question as the process of globalization gathered momentum after the collapse of communism and trade liberalization became the fashion of the times. Caught between trying to exercise the muscles of its newly-found independence, yet having to submit to the rigorous regimen of global dictates, South Africa veered between the two, trying to adhere to both while sacrificing to neither.

For South Africa to ignore the fact that it is part of a larger economy, indeed, that it is only a minuscule and not very important component of that economy, that a massive overabundance in the supply of labor is the prevailing norm in that economy, that South Africa's labor force is competing with a billion plus others, is to recycle itself into the isolation it endured during the apartheid years. Seeing things only through the prism of South Africa distorts the global realities South Africa faces, one of which is that to create jobs in a cut-throat market that has no boundaries you must be understand the world you live in.

South Africa does not.

Its pursuit of a perfect world for the masses will leave the masses without anything – even their dignity. In the act of emancipating them, their benevolent masters will enslave them, not by denying freedom but by encouraging its excesses.

It is hard to understand the reasoning behind some of the more restrictive clauses of these acts, of the over-regulation that stymies enterprise, of the misgauging of the importance that prospective investors -- domestic or foreign -- attach to flexible labor markets, unless, of course, you were a victim of apartheid's oppression and inhumanity, and paid an non-redeemable deposit of pain for bringing the government to the point of acknowledging that it could not sustain the system indefinitely. Which makes it all the more difficult to say "let's stop blaming everything on the legacy of apartheid and get on with the future."

But at some point, to resort to using the rationale that the necessity to eliminate the legacy of apartheid is the sine qua non for every decision becomes counterproductive. Not only does it perpetuate a victim syndrome, it inculcates powerlessness and becomes a convenience for excusing failure, incompetence, inadequate performance, and social breakdown, and implies that South Africa should be held to different standards of accountability, and hence treated differently, because of its horrific past.

Nor should South Africa overdo the constant evocation of the "horrific past." While the crimes of apartheid were indeed horrific, and the suffering and degradation it inflicted on millions will always stand as a never-to-be -forgotten reminder of man's inhumanity to man, they should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the evils of apartheid pale in comparison to other instances of man's inhumanity to man not only in this century, but in Africa itself.

South Africa must review its labor market practices, not because they are "wrong" in some undefined sense, but because they make South Africa uncompetitive with other emerging markets in its league: wages are out of sync with productivity; unit labor costs are substantially out of line with costs in the countries it competes with. No amount of well-meaning labor legislation that guarantees workers' rights to a degree unheard of in most developed countries will address this uncompetitiveness, until labor productivity begins to match increases in wage levels -- an unlikely probability in the foreseeable future.

The ANC, says Alec Erwin, had overestimated the capacity of the government to effect change, hence the shortchanging on delivery.81 But there is another dimension to change more fundamental than the capacity of the government – the capacity of the society itself. In a moment of heartening honesty – or disheartening, if you had succumbed to the visions of the virtuous state that "massive transformation would give birth to – as the admission by Shepard Mdladlana, the new Minister of Labour, that the country itself was ill-prepared for the massive restructuring taking place in the economy. Moving from commodity-based exports to more value-added exports required a different labor force than the one being retrenched in the mines and other industries. Even in sectors such as construction, he said, skill shortfalls were expected to become critical as construction activity grew to keep pace with development demand. Hence "old-fashioned planning simply hopeless in today's world."82

Transformation requires the skills that enable transformation to take place. In the absence of those skills, transformation will either proceed slowly and inefficiently or not at all, but the supply of those depends on a sufficient level of transformation having already taken place before there can be any accelerated leap-forward. And thus, again the vicious cycle south Africa finds itself endlessly enmeshed in. To effect "massive transformation, it must develop an initial skills base to serve as the jumping-off point. But without the resource to acquire the skills that bring you to the take-off point, there is no take-off, thus ensuring that the resources you need to accumulate to get to that point never materialize. Stalemate or checkmate?


South Africa, many would say, stands on the precipice, staggering a little, but not falling. The Wall Street Journal, probably the world's most influential financial organ, although the Financial Times would no doubt take umbrage at the accolade, published an article by David Rote, president of the London-based firm of investment consultants, Independent Strategy, in September 1998 that all but pushed South Africa over the precipice.83 While the article was highly controversial and assailed by financial analysts in South Africa for the harshness of its predictions and the alleged incorrectness of some of the data it cited as facts, many of its contentions and conclusions were not refuted.84

Not disputed: That wage levels in the manufacturing sector are well above the emerging market average; that productivity levels do not compensate for wage levels; that rigidities in the labour market contribute to the high rate of unemployment; that these rigidities are compounded by the Equity in Employment Act; that the largely underemployed, unskilled employed and unemployed cannot save enough to finance the investment needed to accelerate the rate of economic growth; that personal savings, whether estimated at a low of 0.5 per cent or a high of 1.8 per cent of disposable income, and household debt to income hovering at the 70 per cent level were both the lowest and highest respectively in the emerging market universe; that with interest rates well above 20 per cent, the cost of servicing the government's debt accounts for more than 20 per cent of total government expenditure; that the public sector wage bill accounts for another 25 per cent of public current account expenditure and absorbs more than 15 per cent of GDP; that the gap between imports and exports is increasing, and thus increasing the deficit on the current account, which is estimated to produce a shortfall of R18 billion in 1998 or 3 per cent of GDP: that foreign debt servicing will amount to another R18 billion, or another 3 per cent of GDP; that the two taken together exceed current foreign reserves of R32 billion; that long-term foreign direct investment inflows amount to 0.5 per cent of GDP compared to an emerging market average of 2 per cent. In summary, foreign exchange intervention in the market in the current circumstances would almost certainly backfire, fuelling rather than curtailing speculation since the country lacks the foreign reserves to repulse any kind of sustained attack on the currency.

In terms of cause and effect, a serious case can be made that the weakening of the rand had set in well before the bubble burst with Russia's collapse when stock exchanges around the world plummeted and were deluged with calls from institutional speculators, and pre-programmed computer-generated instructions from financial institutions to transfer massive amounts of capital to safer havens went into automatic action. Indeed, in programming ourselves against losses beyond a certain threshold, we have created the instruments of panic which ensure the losses these electronic watchdogs are supposed to guard against. The market's response merely accelerated a trend in the rand's fortunes that was nibbling away at the margins since the beginning of the year.

Lost in the turbulence was the troubling performance of the commodity markets. The Benchmark Commodity Research Unit index, which measures a basket of 17 commodity futures prices, fell to a 21 year low. Across the board, commodity prices are depressed as demand weakens in Asia, a major export destination.85

Historically, the first industries to feel the loss of confidence that either precedes or accompanies economic down-turns are commodity producers, especially exporters. Thus, as their balance of payments deteriorate, their currencies come under pressure, especially if their foreign exchange reserves are low to begin with. South Africa, once again, is no exception. Whether the commodity is gold, or coal or grains and agricultural goods, South Africa is feeling the effects of the slump in demand in world markets, and if global deflation begins to accelerate, the situation will only worsen, because, although once and not so long ago, gold was considered to be the safe haven of last resort, a sinecure that is now the almost exclusive preserve of long-dated European and US government bonds.86


The unions, perhaps in a state of denial, or harping for the good old days of "struggle" reacted the changing world order with pavlovian predictability. They would strike. Rising inflation, high interest rates, and increasing numbers of dependants who were unemployed were eroding the purchasing power of the employed who were intent on protecting their interests, on not allowing the hard-earned gains they had made since 1994 to evaporate for reasons they had little understanding of and no sympathy for. Thus the pre-emptive action before the economy slides into recession. But higher wages will mean little if there are either fewer or no recipients there to receive them.

In the first quarter of 1998, the number of working days lost through strikes approached the 300,000 mark -- the highest since 1994.87 In the first six weeks? of 1998, the number of strikes increased by 20 per cent compared with the first six months of 1997.88 More were promised. The prospect of recession and increasing unemployment did nothing to curb the unions resort to striking when wage negotiations began to stall. More alarming perhaps, was the disturbing alacrity with which striking workers turned to violence to pressurize employers, their non-striking colleagues, and even customers.89 Strikes were increasingly characterized by militancy and violence: arson at Eskom, clashes at petrol suppliers, teacher strikes that threatened to get out of hand as teachers in some areas trashed the schools they taught in, and rhetoric that often verged on inciting workers to take matters into their own hands.

Not only did it appear that strikes were being used as the remedy of first resort, it also appeared that when employers did not immediately capitulate to workers' demands, workers simply took matter into their own hands. The unions themselves were frequently in the invidious position of not being able to restrain their members. The net impact was to reinforce the perception of foreign investors that the labor climate was extremely unstable, and that perception, allied to the perception that the market was remarkably inflexible, added to the unwillingness of foreign investor to get involved in the machinations of South Africa's industrial sector.

Adding to the confusion of potential investors was the failure to comprehend how unions in an economy on the brink of recession and suffering from massive and increasing unemployment levels could continue to bring their members out on strike, demand wage increases in excess of productivity growth, and further the chances of the economy tumbling into a full-blown recession. In the circumstances prevailing in world markets, the unions' actions seemed irrational at best, and an economic death-wish at worst, but whatever the rationale for industrial action, South Africa was increasingly seen as a place to avoid investing in, a country with an unhealthy penchant for wanting to self-destruct rather than a country hospitable to foreign investment which went out of its way to minimize the uncertainty involved.

A motor industry component suppliers strike called by NUMSA forced four of the country's seven automobile manufacturers to close some of their assembly plants because of component shortages caused by the strike, placing in jeopardy an industry that is one of South Africa's largest foreign exchange earners and a provider of 34,000 jobs. The strike cost assembly manufacturers $25 million a day.90

In other plants workers were sent home without pay because supply shortages meant that no work was available. The manufacturers, who stood to lose billions of rands in export orders gave firm notice that if the domestic suppliers of critical components could not be relied upon to deliver, then manufacturers would have no option but to "outsource" supplies, even if that meant having to import them.91 Weeks later, as the strike continued, despite efforts at mediation, manufacturers began to use the option of last resort – a number began to fly in key components in order to keep their production lines moving.92

More alarming perhaps, was the disturbing alacrity with which striking workers turned to violence to pressurize employers, their non-striking colleagues, and even customers.93

COSATU itself acknowledged that the trend in 1998 that presaged long and intense strikes during collective bargaining had damaged industrial relations and "might take time to repair."94 "Once a strike has continued for more than a week," Mbhaima, general secretary of COSATU said, "trade unions and employers are prone to decide they might as well sit it out. Long drawn-out strikes not only frustrate workers but also make a speedy negotiated settlement more difficult." His conclusion: "It does not augur well for good industrial relations."95 Yet, Shilowa insisted that the strain employers were under to compete on the international level was being aggravated by employers themselves who thought that the solution to their problems lay in taking a hard line in wage negotiations.

COSATU refused to accept that workers should bear the full brunt of the opening up of the economy. Nor would unions accept wage freezes in a situation of high interest rates.96

Nor was COSATU itself idle. Besides looking for ways to extend the "sympathy" strikes the Labour Relations Act provided for, to include the international trade union movement which had links with the companies involved in domestic labor disputes,97, it gave notice that if the government persisted in the privitization of what the federation insisted were basic municipal services like water, it would call a nation-wide strike. The government lashed out at COSATU. Valli Moosa, Minister of Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development, accused COSATU and its affiliate, the South African Municipality Workers Union (SAMWU) of adopting an "ultra-leftist, which is in reality an ultra-rightist position."98

COSATU, he said, had gotten it wrong: the government was not privitizing the provision of basic services but undertaking public/private sector partnerships to extend to extend services to communities previously excluded. Nonsense, COSATU responded, claiming that the government was "abdicating its responsibility." International experience, it argued, "has shown that privitization always leads to an increase in tariffs, making services unaffordable to the majority."99 Hence, COSATU would proceed with a day of mass action on 30 September – which it did -- to protest privitization of government services and to demand an immediate moratorium of the sale of state enterprises. There would be no compromising.100

And to add to the growing breakdown in relationships between workers and employers, COSATU, objecting to a draft prepared by a task force which was supposed to have been ratified by Needle's executive council on 11 September, refused at the last minute to agree to the provisions of a social plan agreement in the National Economic, Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), thereby delaying its ratification by six months. However, at that meeting, COSATU raised objections to the threshold level for retrenchments at which the provisions of the social plan would take effect.101

And thus the ways of South Africa.

And yet, when the Washington DC-based Investor Responsibility Research Centre (IRRC) published the results of a survey it had carried out, 343 executives from multi-national companies doing business in the country indicated a growing disillusionment with the economic situation in South Africa, the government acted as though it somehow had been slighted. In 1997, 48 per cent thought that South Africa;]'s economic management compared favorably with other emerging markets. In 1998, only 26 per cent were of the same opinion. The figure who felt South Africa was doing a worse job than their counterparts elsewhere rose from 11 per cent to 15 per cent. A small majority -- 51 per cent thought that South Africa's labor productivity was worse than that of other emerging markets compared to 37 per cent a year ago, while 41 per cent gave South Africa a "worse" rating with regard to labor relations, up from 34 per cent a year ago. The IRRC's conclusion: South Africa is losing ground in the competition between emerging markets for direct foreign investment.102

The IRRC's findings were nothing new. A string of international reports reflected poorly on foreign investor sentiment toward South Africa. Among them, Data Resources International (DRI), a subsidiary of McGraw Hill (Standard and Poor's parent), issued a report which ranked South Africa more risky than Russia in its survey of ten emerging markets. It cited South Africa's low foreign reserves, low economic growth, and high unemployment for its ranking.103 Given Russia's collapse, the multiple devaluation of the rouble, its stated intention to default on its foreign obligations, its political turmoil, South Africans could be forgiven for being irked by DRI's classification.104 On its heels, Moody's, the US-based credit rating agency announced that it had placed three of South Africa's ratings on review. The agency cited the economy's inability to create jobs; slow economic growth over the last two years, and recent market volatility as reasons for its action.105

Nor were criticisms of the government's economic stewardship solely the province of overseas assessors. In its September issue of its quarterly bulletin, the South African Reserve Bank itself argued that the government should move faster in implementing market reforms, raised concerns about labor costs, which it said were rising after showing moderation in 1997.("In 1998, the implementation of the outstanding reform measures might help to make the economy more resilient to external shocks and attract sustained inflows of foreign direct investment capital." Perhaps in deference to its own preferred sense of anonymity, the Bank failed to mention that its own actions had done much to trigger "external shocks." Nor did it clearly identify the required reforms.)106


The Employment Equity Act (1998) is, depending on how you view it, either one of the most progressive pieces of labor legislation enacted in any country to redress consciously-imposed employment imbalances in the workforce or one of the most draconian pieces of social engineering that a government could devise to transform the nature and composition of a country's work force. It is undoubtedly the most controversial legislation passed by the National Assembly since the Assembly's coming into being in 1994. Its ramifications for the workplace, between employee and employees, and employees and employers, on labor relations in general, on productivity, and as an enabler or disenabler of foreign direct investment poorly understood and, consequently, even more-hotly debated.

The legislation puts in place the processes that will undo one of the primary purposes of apartheid legislation: job reservation for whites at all levels of employment, except at the most menial, discrimination against blacks in the job market as a matter of mandated public policy, the condemnation of blacks to a permanent underclass status, further ensured by educational and skills-training policies that restricted blacks to the most rudimentary standards -- sufficient enough for them to serve as the work engine for the developed white sector, yet insufficient for them to advance beyond certain prescribed benchmarks. If there was a need to upgrade or tune the engine on occasion to meet the growing demands of the developed sector, the state "benevolently" yielded to such needs, and was not beyond congratulating itself for its commitment to uplifting the lives of the less well-advantaged. Post 1992, the legislation underpinning labor practices was abolished, as part of the sweeping repeal of all apartheid legislation, although the abolition was more honored in the rhetoric than in the deed.

Matters, not unexpectedly, remained more or less the same, although with the advent of the ANC-led government and its commitment to affirmative action -- a phrase that was tantamount to sabotage to some, and to "reducing standards" to some others – the policy of "rent-a-black" i.e. the obligatory black in senior management or even on the board of directors became the politically correct course of action for employers. They could always "parade" "their" black before admiring audiences of their fellow employers and bask in the plaudits for their "pioneering" efforts to diversify their work force, especially at the more senior levels deserved, especially in a global economy with its relentless emphasis on competitiveness, and its inherent corollary – only with "the best and the brightest" at the helm and ruthless "downsizing"could ensure a company's survival in a marketplace that devoured the weak and all who were unprepared to undertake the necessary pruning.

But the ANC was not interested in cosmetic pruning – they were out not for its "pound of flesh," as some i.e. whites would see it, but for nothing less than a transformation of the labor force at all levels. That legislation that would mandate the total restructuring of an employer's workforce, albeit not overnight, might be viewed as adding to the inflexibility of an already inflexible market by would-be foreign investors, that the cumbersome administrative mechanisms a company had to adopt to comply with the provisions of the new law might be regarded as off-putting, that the training costs that might have to be incurred to give concrete expression to the law might ensure that interested investors would look to places with more attractive incentives, that the restructuring envisaged might put some companies, especially those on the margin, out of business were not the concerns of the ANC. In an odd way, it was telling business what PW Botha had told Afrikaners in 1986: "Adapt or Die."

How business would handle the new measures the legislation called for was business's business; that they would do so was government's business. And if foreign investors found the labour market practices they would have to adhere to disconcerting, they were not the kind of investors South Africa was looking for – not for them the foreign investor "lured" into the country by tax incentives and other profit-enhancing carrots. If the investor could not balance his thirst for profit with a thirst for social justice, he would do well to stay out of South Africa.

The legislation itself covers a number of matters. Its primary purposes are set out in the Act's preamble:


that as a result of apartheid and other discriminatory laws and practices, there are disparities in employment, occupation, and income within the national labour market; and that those disparities create such pronounced disadvantages for certain categories of people that they cannot be addressed simply by repealing discriminatory laws, Therefore, in order to--- promote the constitutional right of equality and the exercise of true democracy; eliminate unfair discrimination in employment; ensure the implementation of employment equity to redress the effects of discrimination; achieve a diverse workforce broadly representative of our people; promote economic development and efficiency in the workforce; and to give effect to the obligations of the Republic as a member of the International Labour Organisation,

BE IT ENACTED by the Parliament of South Africa as follows:---

Thus, the purposes of the Act are twofold: to promote equal opportunity and fair treatment in employment through the elimination of unfair treatment in employment through the elimination of unfair discrimination; and implementing affirmative action measures to redress the disadvantages in employment experienced by designated groups[my ital.], in order to ensure their equitable representation in all occupational categories and levels in the workforce.

"Designated groups" mean black people, women and people with disabilities. Black people means Africans, Coloureds and Indians.

Under the provisions of the legislation companies with 50 or more employees have to draw up affirmative action programs. These programs should produce plans to make the composition of the company's workforce demographically representative within five years. Each year employers are required to submit to the Director General Director of the Department of Labour an affirmative action report which describes the current employee profile, the progress the company made during the year in question, and its program for the upcoming years to achieve the stipulated diversity in the workplace.

Employees have the power to require employers to set numerical targets for each component of the designated groups. If employers fail to meet the targets they themselves have set during this process do not fulfil, in the opinion of the Labour Department, other provisions of the legislation, the Department can impose a fine ranging from $80,000 to $150,000. In addition, the company can be prohibited from obtaining state contracts. The legislation, however, does give businesses who are deemed to be in breach of their obligations under the law an opportunity to appeal the department's findings, and may be given more time to implement their programs.

Businesses are also required to disclose the salaries and occupational-benefits paid in their work categories, and to progressively reduce disproportionate income differentials inherited from the apartheid era. Precisely what this means and its implications for wage negotiations is unclear and unexplored.

The irony of the legislation is its resort to groups as the basis for the definition of the disadvantaged. Having fought ferociously against the National Party's proposals to formulate the constitution in terms of the protection of "group rights," viewing the concept as a thinly-veiled attempt to maintain white privilege, having insisted that the best protection of group rights lay in the protection of individual rights, and having promoted and enacted into law a Bill of Rights that explicitly rejects the notion that there is anything that can be labelled a "group right," the ANC now not only advances the concept, enacts legislation that is underpinned by the concept, but requires that that legislation introduce some form of race classification to ensure compliance with its provisions.

Race classification was the foundation stone of apartheid; it underpinned all apartheid structures and was anathema to blacks of every persuasion, determining with one stroke of a pin, one's entire life possibilities, one's station in society, and one's relationship to the state and the many apparatuses it employed to ensure that your behavior at all times conformed to what was deemed permissible by the classification to which you had been consigned at birth. If race classification under the National Party was Orwellian in scope and ruthlessness of implementation – one arrest every three minutes for a violation of the Pass laws – how are we to see it in its more benign guise? Is the "legacy of apartheid" to be addressed by using a modified version of apartheid? Are the bricks that held the apartheid structures in place to be replaced by new bricks that hold the transformation structures in place? Are apartheid classifications, although modified in form democratic in their application?

Can a just end be achieved by resorting to a means that had been so patently unjust in the past, and so universally condemned? And is not the application of any form of racial classification inimical to non-racialism, and the constitution itself, which creates the framework for redressing the wrongs to "persons or categories of persons disadvantaged by unfair discrimination.?"

Will definitions of inequality only in terms of certain racial categories exacerbate racial polarization, create a body of citizens who will feel they are being discriminated against, and a generation of young people who will pay for the sins of their fathers? And as South Africa becomes a more equal society as increasing numbers of persons in the designated groups become less disadvantaged in economic and social terms and more exposed to opportunities they are capable of grasping, should "disadvantage" continue to be defined in terms of color or gender, rather than in terms of the individual? Can one justify what amounts to a group right when the majority endorse it, and refuse to justify one when only the minority endorse it? Does the concept exist in its own moral right, as absolute as the indivisible rights of the individual, or is it a political right, to be invoked in certain relative circumstances?

Race or class: which confers the greater degree of disadvantage, which provides the better yardstick for measuring it? While it is true that almost all blacks in South Africa are disadvantaged to one degree or another, it cannot be concluded that all whites are advantaged, although most of them are, and within the ranks of the black disadvantaged there are hierarchies of inequality, which, if applied across all racial categories would certainly result in many of the least disadvantaged of blacks being on par with many of the most disadvantaged of whites.

Which raises more fundamental questions: who are the truly disadvantaged, and do you measure the consequences of having been disadvantaged in terms of what might have happened to you as distinct from what actually happened to you. For example, time and again, some of the "best" schools in the country in terms of educational achievement are located in what would properly be regarded as some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country.107 What, in such cases, are the appropriate measure of disadvantage?

The Gini coefficient is the standard tool for measuring the degree of inequality in a society. On a scale of 0 to 1, where 0 represents absolute equality and 1 absolute inequality, South Africa currently ranks second in the world in terms of income inequality with a coefficient of 0.58; only Brazil ranks worse with a coefficient of 0.63. According to one argument, countries in the throes of development should undergo an increase in levels of income inequality, since growth by its very nature is an uneven process, and hence the inequities it gives rise to are a function of growth itself – a dynamic process in which the variables that drive it are themselves changing at differential rates -- important components of growth such as the movement of labor from less productive sectors of the economy to the more productive, patterns of migration from rural areas to urban areas, the distribution of capital with a preponderance going to capital-intensive industries, the unequal rates of technological change, the gestation of "new" industries all ensure that inequalities increase as society is in a perpetual state of transformation. It is not unsurprising therefore that Gini coefficients tend to be highest in the emerging economies – Chile (0.56), Panama (0.57), Thailand (0.46), Malaysia (0.56), and closer to South Africa, Zimbabwe (0.57) and Kenya (0.58). On the other end of the scale, countries with the highest degrees of inequality tend to be the poorest countries, trapped in unbreakable chains of pervasive poverty – Bangladesh (0.28), Rwanda (0.29) and Laos (0.30).108

Church leaders call for a national conference to address what they refer to as the despair permeating many segments of South African society.109 They speak of the collapse of the moral fabric.110 Police Commissioner George Fivaz attributes the disregard for the law and the prevalence of rampant crime to "the absence of norms and values."111 Deputy President Thabo Mbeki believes there should be some kind of 'moral summit.'112 "Something has gone terribly wrong," says Judge Lucy Mailula, "It seems there has been a collapse of moral fibre. Maybe the new freedom is being interpreted in the wrong way."113

All in their own way were struggling to put their fingers on the same thing. That "thing" is anomie.114

Anomie refers to a disconcerting condition in society where norms and values no longer control the behavior of people. Anomie is caused by the need to adjust to changing conditions and the difficulty people have without clear rules to guide them. Rules on how people ought to behave with each other break down and people do not know what to expect from one another.

Sudden changes from a regulated to a deregulated society bring about the highest levels of anomie. People lose their sense of being subject to accepted and binding social norms and codes. Anomie feeds our sense of anguish and despair, our sense of purposelessness, as we struggle to find meaning in the new and seemingly bottomless cauldron of being into which we have been thrown, and as we free fall, we reach out for some anchor, some mooring to which we can attach ourselves and reconcile ourselves to a new paradigm of values. For many, anomie expresses itself in a consuming longing for the past , for the safety of a world of known and acknowledged values, for the security of knowing and accepting one's position in the hierarchy of society.

South Africa is subsumed in anomie. With the demise of apartheid, the "rules "of 40 years were consigned to the rubbish bin of history. What had been entrenched as dogma by the privileged was simply dismissed as the propaganda of venal men by the newly empowered. At many levels of society, the certainties that were the norm were eviscerated; the relationships between black and whites were transmogrified, sometimes even reversed; in the name of transformation the old order was eased out, sometimes with a harshness that caught many of its adherents off -guard; the unsettling became the common; the uncertain the only certainty, the uneven and often contradictory signals from the new elite, as they too sought to reconcile irreconcilables a frustrating exercise in trying to divine their intentions.

The country was moving in a new direction, and while whites were at the receiving end of much of the transformations simultaneously ploughing their way toward the light at the end of their respective tunnels, sometimes the tunnels themselves collapsed, and sometimes the tracks were derailed, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel was the light of another train approaching at the same break-neck speed.

With so many trains crowding the tracks, with engineers of varying experience and expertise in the driver's seat, some drivers hurling along at full-steam, some chugging along at a rather leisurely pace, and some still at the station waiting for the station master to raise the flag for departure, with all ostensibly heading in the same direction but with switching guards only sporadically at the switching points, collisions were unavoidable.

But inevitable: an inevitable part of the journey, of the process of change itself, leaving not only whites, but blacks unsure of the present, apprehensive of the future, and uncertain as to where the country was heading. Roles had changed, but role-players had not adopted to the changing roles. Attitudes were questioned, but those who led the questioning were often themselves prisoners of the attitudes that underpinned their questioning. Values were put under a microscope, but sometimes the persons with the microscopes did not know how to use them, and sometimes they made incorrect diagnoses. White anomie did not shape itself in a void; black anomie was as prevalent , though of a qualitatively different kind. Blacks and whites struggled to find themselves and each other. And, as in all struggles, there were victims, some casualties of design, some casualties of accident.


And they struggled in other ways, too. Isis Berlin in a famous article described two concepts of freedom.115 Negative freedom meant individual freedom from government interference. In this sense government was only necessary to protect individuals' from interfering with each other's freedom Positive freedom , on the other hand, meant freedom to participate in the process of collective self-governance.. These concepts of freedom Berlin suggested, stood for "two profoundly divergent and irreconcilable attitudes to the ends of life, the one describing a citizenry which is happiest when left alone, the other a citizenry happiest when part of a collective.116

Berlin further argued that " it is essential to strike a balance between them because each of them has a right to be classed among the deepest interests of mankind."

In terms of South Africa, the paradigm that Berlin describes is in many respects an apt framework to understand the dynamics that underlie black and white behavior in the new dispensation. Whereas under the old order, whites were strict adherents of positive freedom, albeit in a limited and fractured form, blacks were active advocates and practitioners of negative freedom, wanting only to be left alone to pursue their individual interests, unfettered by the regulation of the state. Hence the fault line between the two races. Today, under the new dispensation, the paradigm has reversed itself. Whites now wish to pursue their interests unfettered by the regulations of the state, and whereas before they had embraced a state that exercised almost total control over every aspect of their loves, they now are the staunchest advocates of a state that is minimalist: committed only to government that is subject to the principles of free market capitalism, private property, and non-interference in the lives of the citizenry. Public authority is regarded as unwholesome and unwelcome.

Blacks, however, have turned the proverbial 180 degrees. They want collective participation at all levels of governance; public authority is seen as being synonymous with their new found freedom. Interference is not only welcomed but demanded.

With both blacks and whites holding not only different, but diametrically opposing perception s of what the process of transformation is all about, the country's political and constitutional processes are at interminable odds. Every little difference on a policy issue becomes a matter of life or death. Any concession that would appear to benefit your opponent is seen as an affirmation of what your opponent's perceptions of what 1994 was all about. On the one hand, the ANC came into power with the promise of positive freedom for blacks – maximum participation at all levels of governance. On the other hand, whites "surrendered" power on the understanding that the Constitution provided the maximum protections for negative freedom.

Hence two impossible-to-reconcile visions of where the country was heading. Hence the absence of consensus among blacks and whites on policy matters, the deepening polarization between the two groups, as each sees the other as trying to deny it the legitimacy of its concept of freedom, and hence the stereotyping that plays into each community's fears: that blacks are not committed to democracy but to a highly centralized one party state, that whites are obstructionists, intent on maintaining the status quo and the much-maligned privileges of apartheid.

What whites see as principled opposition i.e. that it is the duty of an opposition party to find fault with every piece of intended legislation and to oppose it outright or at the very least to amend it so as to reflect more adequately the interests of its constituency or to allay their fears, blacks see opposition, especially when they have the numbers to pass the legislation in any form it likes, provided that it does not infringe upon the provisions of the constitution as being little more than a delaying tactic, intended to postpone indefinitely the changes the inevitability of the passage of the legislation will entail. In short, opposition for the sake of opposition, which is of course one of the hallmark characteristics of a functioning democracy.

Except for the occasional matter of "the national interest'" parties in opposition to government oppose what the government parties wish to legislate; not to do so, would, in the opposition's view be a dereliction of their responsibilities as an opposition i.e. an alternative government, part of building the constituency for it becoming the governing party in a future depends on its ability to "expose" the inadequacies of the present government, which is why democracy is so inefficient, messy, and seemingly so petty at the best of times.

But when the governing parties never see the opposition parties as alternative governments, or governments-in-waiting, then they reduced to the dubious status of being little more than representatives of "privileged" sectional interests, not national interests. And since their counter-proposals will never be enacted into law since the parties doing the proposing will never be governing parties, they are the more readily dismissed, since they have never to be judged in terms of their possible appeal to a majority of voters and the even more remote possibility that the voters might at some future point in time vote for the parties advocating counter proposals or promising to repeal existing legislation or amend it in some way because they appeal to majority sentiment.

What further obfuscates the process in South Africa is the fact that the present dispensation did not replace a totalitarian state where parliament had never existed, parliamentary procedures never followed, portfolio committees unheard of , opposition voices stifled, parliamentary votes unobserved, elections not held. On the contrary, all of these niceties of democracy were followed with a thoroughness and diligence that belied their irrelevance, the minutiae of procedure were adhered to with what in other circumstances would be regarded as comic obedience to detail.

The fault lay, not with the processes of the system itself, with its lack of representivity, its being the preserve of the few, of its exclusivity, of its being the instrument to dominate the majority, of its limitedness. Under the rules that prevailed in the colonial era, it could be reasonably argued that the Union of South Africa which came into being in 1910, was more democratic than its colonial neighbors, insofar that at least some of the citizenry enjoyed the democratic right to vote for a government of their choosing, whereas their neighbors were "ruled" through the administrative instruments of their respective imperial master and "rights" were confined to colonizers and their descendants.

Indeed, it could be argued that in the post- Boer War era with the clear-cut divisions between Boers and English, the non-receding memories of the Boer wars, and the perceived dominance of the old imperial order that South Africa enjoyed a robust democracy for those who had the franchise, as robust , perhaps as those "enlightened" western "democracies," who confined the franchise to males and resisted stubbornly every effort to extend the franchise to women France, it might do well to recall did not enfranchise women until 1945.

Not until 1948, with the election of the Afrikaner National Party to power did South Africa become a one-party "democracy." And not until it began to legislate apartheid did its overt racism, no worse than the racism of the western powers who had arbitrarily carved-up the African continent among them under Bismarck's direction in Berlin in 1884, become officially institutionalized and received the benediction of state sanction. Although the NP had a monopoly of power until the first one-person-one vote elections in 1994, the Progressive Federalist Party (PFP) upheld the tradition of opposition.

Following the split in the National Party in 1983, the breakaway Conversative Party (CP) won enough seats in parliament at one point to give the NP the first test of real opposition, real in the sense that it had a base of support that could drive a substantial wedge into the NP's constituency and possibly deprive it of its majority in parliament.

Although parliamentary politics in the apartheid years were shallow, the NP in opposition, after it withdrew from the GNU in 1996, drew not only on its ingrained experience as to how a "real" parliament should work, but also on its vicarious experience as to how a "real" opposition party should work, using the Westminster system as its role model. Anyone who has witnessed the Westminster parliament in session would be hard put to recognise it as "the mother of parliaments." Across the benches, the government and opposition raucously hurl insults at each other, verbal jostling, the art of incisive interruption, a gift for repartee, and an instinct for the jugular are attributes not only highly admired, but assiduously practiced.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.