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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

455 extended footnote on the Anthony Trahar affair

Anthony Traher 

ANC Today


Volume 4, No. 36 • 10-16 September 2004



* Letter from the President: Questions that demand answers



Questions that demand answers

The period of 350 years from the arrival of the Dutch settlers in the Cape in 1652, to our liberation in 1994, was characterised by uninterrupted conflict and permanent uncertainty about the future of our country. During the last few years of the system of white minority rule introduced by the Dutch settlers, our country experienced greatly heightened levels of violence as the apartheid regime did everything it could to retain power.

To some extent, this mirrored the similarly intense violence our country experienced during the long period that began soon after the arrival of the settlers, and stretched to the beginning of the 20th century, with the conclusion of the 1899-1902 South African War and the defeat of the 1906 Bambatha Rebellion. This was the time it took the colonial and imperialist system finally to establish its hold over the whole of our country.

We also know that despite the fact that for 70 years up to 1960, our people used peaceful methods of struggle to achieve their emancipation, the white minority regimes did not hesitate to use force against the unarmed people. Therefore, peaceful struggle on the part of the oppressed did not mean the absence of political violence.

Throughout this period of three-and-a-half-centuries nobody emerged as the winner. The oppressed did not succeed to defeat and overthrow the oppressor regime, thus denying it the possibility to continue to mete out violence against the people. However, the oppressor regime did not succeed to defeat the oppressed, rendering them incapable of continuing the struggle for their liberation.

This unresolved struggle, even in a situation of no-peace-no-war, meant that the political future of our country remained uncertain. The risk remained that the bloodiest conflict could break out, with neither side willing to give up, both determined to fight it out to the bitter end.

In the end, change came about as a result of a settlement negotiated essentially by the historic antagonists that had stood at the barricades for 350 years, each unable to defeat and destroy the other. This peaceful outcome culminated in the equally peaceful general elections of 1994, which surprised the cynics and sceptics, who had convinced themselves that our people, black and white, were incapable of solving their problems peacefully.

Amazed that our first democratic elections were peaceful, these were determined not to abandon their cynicism and scepticism. They thought that the peaceful transition from apartheid to a non-racial democracy was too good to be true. They convinced themselves that sooner or later our country would be consumed by the terrible racial conflagration they had expected in 1994.

As the days of peace accumulated, they said - wait until tomorrow! As tomorrow came, with no sign of an Armageddon, they said - wait until tomorrow! Having frightened themselves about what tomorrow would be like, some among the cynics and the sceptics packed their bags and emigrated to other countries they had convinced themselves were the safest in the world.

But the doomsayers had not understood our people. They had not understood that as the first and principal victims of violence and war, the masses of our people, black and white, would be the first and best guarantors of the peace they won in 1994. The masses would not be easily persuaded or duped to join some violent campaign to solve any of the challenges our country faces. This has been confirmed by the virtually total disappearance of political violence in our country, even during election periods. In 1994, areas such as KwaZulu-Natal and the present Ekurhuleni (East Rand), had been at the epicenter of the violence that claimed thousands of lives, as the apartheid system

approached its demise. As we held our 10th Anniversary elections in 2004, the masses of the people in both these areas would not allow anybody to drag them backwards into a situation of violence and war.

Similarly, some among our white compatriots have continued to harbour false ideas that they could address their problems by engaging in bombing and assassination campaigns. But as they have set off a bomb here and another there, it has been perfectly clear that those who constitute this lunatic fringe have absolutely no support among the white people of our country, and are incapable of inspiring such support.

Our country has never enjoyed the peace it enjoys today. It has never been as stable as it is today. The extent and depth of reconciliation within our diverse nation have never been as pronounced as they are today. Our country has never been as risk-free of unacceptable political conflict as it is today.

Our democratic system is firmly entrenched. No force exists anywhere that has the possibility to undermine it or put it at risk. Despite, and perhaps because of our history, we stand in the front ranks of the group of countries across the globe that are truly peaceful, stable, and not painfully consumed by the threat of terrorist bombs.

None of this means the cynics and the sceptics have ceased to exist. They are still around, and will, undoubtedly, occasionally manufacture one scarecrow or another to frighten the unwary about our country and its future.

A few years ago they tried to scare the people about their future, asking the question - what happens when Mandela goes? They produced all manner of doomsday scenarios, pretending that President Mandela, with his "magic", was the only person capable of guaranteeing the better future for our country, for which so many had sacrificed everything, including their lives.

More recently, these cynics and sceptics sought to frighten the people with unfounded allegations of an intention to amend the constitution, to increase the number of terms a person could serve as President of the Republic. This was part of the scare campaign that sought to suggest that ours was becoming a one-party- state, which would result in the collapse of democracy, our system of human rights and the rule of law, leading to the installation of a dictatorship, and so on.

Undoubtedly, for selfish and narrow partisan and other reasons, the cynics and sceptics in our midst will continue their mischievous campaigns that are based on lies, regardless of what the millions of our people of all races and colours are doing together to build the South Africa of their dreams. As part of this, they will continue to look for opportunities to engage in the popular sport of advancing spurious claims that South Africa is the worst in the world in one

negative area or another.

The government document that assesses our First Decade of Democracy, the 10-Year Review, makes an important point about the continuing disjuncture between the political and the business leadership in our country. Correctly, it argues that this matter should be addressed by both leadership echelons, to ensure that during our Second Decade of Freedom, these two sectors, the political and the economic, work together better, to accelerate the pace towards the achievement

of the commonly agreed national goal of a better life for all.

Necessarily, because of its size and role in our economy, this discussion must include the leadership of the Anglo American Corporation, or what is now called Anglo American plc. There can be no doubt whatsoever but that we have to treat this corporate citizen as one of the important players within our national system of social partnership.

The Anglo American Corporation was established in our country in 1917. It grew over the decades to become the largest conglomerate in our country, active in many sectors of our economy. It has therefore been an important player in the processes that resulted in the level of development we achieved during the greater part of the 20th century.

Perhaps more than any other, this Corporation stood out as the quintessentially South African and Southern African company. It grew to become the giant it is because of its access both to our natural resources, and to cheap, unskilled labour in South and Southern Africa. Regardless of the wishes of its leadership, and like all other companies, it benefited from the criminally oppressive and

exploitative labour, economic and political system instituted and maintained by the colonial and apartheid system in our country.

The company developed and grew in our country, and region, during a period of the highest political risk. Nevertheless it thought that it made good business sense to continue to expand its operations in our country, both before and throughout the years of apartheid rule. Such patently obvious political risk as existed then neither drove it offshore, nor diminished its appetite to expand its operations in our country.

Of course, all this has had a greatly beneficial impact on our country's general level of development and therefore the standard of living of our people. And indeed, Anglo American continues to be a valued corporate citizen, even in the context of its global expansion in the post-apartheid years.

Our defeat of the apartheid system has been a factor of material importance and benefit to Anglo American. It qualitatively expanded the possibilities for this company to become a global player. It now knew that if it expanded to the rest of the world, it would not have to contend with the hostility generated by the universal rejection of the apartheid system. Symbolising the global freedom it has achieved, it is now openly seeking investment opportunities in the People's Republic of China, thanks to the victory of our liberation movement.

In this context, the company sought our government's agreement for it to secure a first listing on the London Stock Exchange. The government accepted the argument advanced by Anglo American that it needed such listing because, unlike London, the South African capital market would not be big enough to finance the large investments visualised by the company in our country and region, and elsewhere in the world.

Over the years, many foreign business people have consistently told us that despite the many benefits they have derived from the defeat of the apartheid system, many South African business people continue to communicate negative messages about our country whenever they travel abroad, or receive visiting business people.

Some have argued against such foreign listings as was done by Anglo American, saying that there was no need to change domicile away from South Africa, to access the global capital markets. And yet others among these foreign business people have remarked about a phenomenon they do not understand, of the unusually high levels of liquid capital held by South African companies, which are not invested in our economy.

In this regard, COSATU has in the past complained about a domestic "investment strike". At the same time, and continuously, "analysts" and others on whose "expertise" we are supposed to rely, have huffed and puffed mightily about our failure to attract larger inflows of foreign direct investment, while remaining perfectly silent about the large volumes of available domestic capital, which is not invested in our real economy.

Other important business organisations, certainly in the United States, have expressed some wonder as to why obviously well-known South African companies, find it necessary to deny their South African origin and identity, thus needlessly undermining their credibility even as possible business partners.

All of us are aware that business in our country has flourished in the last 10 years, our First Decade of Liberation. The reality is that business people in our country have never had it so good. It has therefore been difficult to understand why important business people would continue to hold and communicate negative views about our country, regardless of the actual and real situation in

the country, which they know very well, and from which they benefit handsomely.

Earlier this month, on September 7, 'Business Day' reproduced an article on Anglo American that had originally been published in the 'Financial Times'. It was entitled "Anglo American reshapes itself to spread its wings globally".

In the article, Mr Tony Trahar, CEO of Anglo American plc, is quoted as saying: "I think the South African political-risk issue is starting to diminish -although I am not saying it has gone." Mr Trahar is quoted as saying this in the context of a speculative discussion by the 'Financial Times', about the possibility of the transfer of the Anglo American Head Office from Johannesburg to London.

This brings us back to the issue of the disjuncture between our political and business leadership mentioned in the government 10-Year Review. Both the ANC and the government would not know what political risk Mr Trahar is talking about. What is this risk that has started to diminish, but has not gone? Is this the risk that persuaded Anglo American that it should list and re-domicile in London, while speaking to us only about the size of capital markets?

When foreign business people have told us about South African business people "bad mouthing" our country, is this what they were talking about? Have our business people been going around the world talking about a persisting political risk in our country? And what have they said is the cause and nature of this risk?

The poor and the despised who worked for Anglo American and other companies that made it during the years of white minority rule, paid a pittance for their labour, are today's voters. For ten years they have made the point clearly and firmly that they care too deeply about the future of their children to allow their own painful past and the instincts it invokes, to determine that future.

They have chosen reconciliation rather than revenge. Rather than reparations, they have asked for an opportunity to do a decent job for a decent wage. Do they deserve to be computed as a political risk, when everything they have done and said has made the unequivocal statement that they are ready to let the past bury the past?

Is it moral and fair that these, who daily bear the scars of poverty, should suffer from the guilt of their masters, who are fixated by the nightmare of a risky future for our country, which derives not from what the poor have done and will do, but from what the rich fear those they impoverished will do, imagining what they themselves would have done, if they had been the impoverished?

Throughout the colonial and apartheid years, Anglo American did not seek a London listing, and did nothing that would generate speculation about the future of its Johannesburg Head Office. Is it now saying that democratic South Africa presents the business world and our country with higher political risk than did apartheid South Africa?

What information does it have, or projections into the future, that say that there is a persisting political risk in our country, on which Anglo American must base its decisions about its future? Would the company be willing to share this information, or projections, at least with the government, so that steps could be taken to remove the risk?

Is this perhaps the reason that South African companies have unusually high cash or liquid reserves, that they think that such is the level of political risk in our country, that they would be very foolish to tie up all their resources in fixed investments in our country? If this is the case, why has business not raised this matter, despite the institutionalised system of regular interaction that exists between government and business?

Remarkably, but happily, many foreign business people do not have the fears about persisting political risk in our country that Mr Trahar seems to have discovered. That is why, among others, the major automobile companies have made the investments they have made in our country, and established particular exclusive production lines that serve both the domestic and the global markets.

Indeed, even the domestic explosion in real estate demand and prices reflects the confidence of both our people and our foreign guests that there is no danger that the houses they buy or build are likely to go up in flames, because of a persisting political risk.

Perhaps Mr Trahar has better information about the future of our country than all these, and we, have. Will he pass the information to them and us, to empower us to take better-informed decisions in future?

Or is it that this persisting political risk is only know to a particular political school of thought in our country? Is it revealed only to those who are aware of this as a matter of fact, that, of necessity, our country must and will explode? Or is it simply that, as Africans, we are assumed to be a political risk until we prove that we are not?

Is the statement that is being made that 10 years of government is only just beginning to communicate the message that, as Africans, we are capable of managing a modern society? Was Mr Trahar making the statement that 10 years after our liberation, we have just begun to convince some important people that we are not the barbarians they thought we were?

Was he saying that, nevertheless, we have still some way to go before these eminent persons will determine that we are civilised after all, and no longer necessarily bearers of political risk?

We must, among other things, use the occasion of our 10th Anniversary of liberation critically to examine how far we have moved away from our racist past, and what we need to do to establish a truly non-racial society. Will it ever happen that the political risk so beloved to some will, in time, diminish in their minds until it ceases to exist? Or will it forever be the case that tomorrow never comes?

Thabo Mbeki



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