Professor Sipho Seepe

By Professor Sipho Seepe

DR HENDRIK Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, reportedly vowed to “take the implementation of separate development so far that no future government will ever be able to reverse it.”

Verwoerd’s policies consigned black people to the periphery of the economy. Robbed of their land, they were placed in congested concentration camps of poverty. They lived in order to work, not vice versa.

It was with this in mind that Nelson Mandela stated in his 1994 inaugural address: “Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.”

The success of the ANC government would invariably be measured by the extent to which it is able to improve the economic fortunes and material conditions of black people in general, and Africans in particular.

The magnitude of this task was not lost on the ANC. In his address on the occasion to mark the anniversary of the SACP in 1981, the then president of the ANC, Oliver Tambo, argued: “It is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the country to the people as a whole. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the roots of racial supremacy and exploitation, and does not represent even the shadow of liberation.

“It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy; and our drive towards national emancipation must include economic emancipation.” Four years into the democratic dispensation, then deputy president Thabo Mbeki bemoaned the seeming persistence of the legacy of apartheid.

Mbeki contended: “South Africa is a country of two nations. One of these nations is white, relatively prosperous, regardless of gender or geographic dispersal. It has ready access to a developed economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructure…
“The second and larger nation of South Africa is black and poor, with the worst affected being women in the rural areas, the black rural population in general and the disabled.

“This nation lives under conditions of a grossly underdeveloped economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructure.”
But the ANC’s promise for a better life was not to be. In 2017 then president Jacob Zuma revisited Mbeki’s two-nations’ theme during his State of Nation Address.


“Twenty-two years into our freedom and democracy, the majority of black people are still economically disempowered … White households earn at least five times more than black households,” he said. “The situation with regard to the ownership of the economy also mirrors that of household incomes. Only 10% of the top 100 companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are owned by black South Africans, directly achieved principally through the black empowerment codes…In terms of the 2015/16 information submitted to the Employment Equity Commission, the representation of whites at top management level amounted to 72% while African representation was at 10%.”

It was in this context that the ANC sought to embark on radical socio-economic transformation. As Zuma stated, there “can be no sustainability in any economy if the majority is excluded in this manner”.

With its energy focused on factional battles, indications are that the promise of economic transformation, let alone radical transformation, has since been put on ice.

Radical economic transformation has since become a swear word. This, however, was long in the making.

With many of its leaders co-opted on the boards of white companies, the party has since dispensed with its pretence of being a revolutionary movement. The strategy of enlisting former oppressors to become partners in oppressing their own is as old as slavery.

This has turned former comrades into modern day “shop stewards” for white capital. Their role is to whip into line those who might harbour revolutionary thoughts in the party.

What is to be done? First, the party must accept that there is no free lunch. To expect microwaved millionaires and billionaires to advance radical change is sheer madness.

Second, we should accept that we overstated the 1994 political settlement. The settlement was a compromise. It did not expunge the interest of the beneficiaries of apartheid.

Jonny Steinberg noted in a Business Day column, December 12, 2014 that the “freedom South Africans acquired in 1994 was mercurial and slippery. Politically, the changes were dramatic … But the structure of society stayed much the same. And white people remained white people, doing what white people had always done: running the professions, the corporations, the universities. Expertise, wealth, technical knowledge, social confidence – all of these remained deeply associated with whiteness.”

Third, we must forgo the myth that the inherited apartheid thought architecture can be transformed to serve the interests of the previously marginalised. As Audre Lorde famously puts it, “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house”.

Fourth, much of the black petty bourgeoisie is easily captured. Zimbabwean scholar Ibbo Mandaza, argues that this class “has not only found comfort in – or assimilated into – the social structure that is characterised by the growing inequality, poverty and unemployment in post-liberation southern Africa; but has also muted into this new class, the comprador bourgeoisie, both within and outside the state, in alliance with both domestic and international corporates and cartels, but growing, pari passu, as parasites in an existentially parasitic state enterprise”.
Finally, the country’s economic salvation should not depend on foreign direct investors. Doing so is tantamount to mortgaging the country’s future to outsiders.

Radical economic transformation should be about changing the historical economic relations and self-reliance. It is time that the country frees itself from the stranglehold of apartheid’s geopolitical imagination.

Professor Sipho Seepe is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.

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