By Terry Crawford-Browne, February 18, 2018
Afro-pessimists were astounded when in 1994 South Africa triumphed relatively peacefully over apartheid. The world had expected a racial bloodbath. The transition was described as a “miracle,” and Nelson Mandela was celebrated as a “saint.”
There is anger amongst South Africans that so much time, energy and money have since been squandered and that, under Jacob Zuma (and Thabo Mbeki before him), the African National Congress (ANC) betrayed their expectations. Citing Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and numerous other African disaster stories, pessimists have similarly been nonplused by the nonviolent transition in 2018 from Jacob Zuma to Cyril Ramaphosa.
In reality, the country has a long history of nonviolent resistance. More than a century ago, Mahatma Gandhi, during the 21 years that he lived in South Africa, developed his satyagraha (truth force or passive resistance) strategies before returning to India in 1914 to challenge British imperialism.
Gandhi’s principles became the foundation of the ANC when it was established in 1912, and that influence continued until 1960 when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chief Albert Luthuli because of his opposition to apartheid and his refusal to resort to violence. Within the ANC however, white activists (many of them members of the Communist Party) prevailed upon Mandela and others with arguments that nonviolence was futile against the apartheid system. The armed struggle was launched in 1961, and Mandela was arrested in 1963 after a tip-off to the government by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). South Africa became a hostage of the Cold War, its liberation delayed for three decades.
Charged with treason, Mandela and the leadership of the ANC were banished to Robben Island, eight miles from Cape Town. Instead of the death penalty, they were sentenced to life imprisonment, and he spent 27 years in jail. Others, including Thabo Mbeki, Joe Modise and Zuma went into exile. There, they became increasingly authoritarian and corrupt, but also divorced from realities within the country.
Whilst ANC exiles dreamed of an “armed struggle” to overcome apartheid, the “inziles” in 1983 mobilized civil disobedience and formed the Mass Democratic Movement to oppose the government’s “tricameral constitution.” The government intended to entrench apartheid in perpetuity by stripping more than 70 percent of the population of their South African citizenship. Instead, black South Africans would become citizens of “independent” tribal bantustans. The apartheid government responded by declaring a state of emergency in 1985, consequences of which included a major financial crisis when South Africa defaulted on its foreign debt. An “armed struggle” would have been suicidal and futile against the highly militarized apartheid government. Prominent amongst the inziles were Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Ramaphosa, a trained lawyer and trade unionist.
Given the role of the US dollar in foreign exchange markets, the international banking sanctions campaign launched by Tutu focused on the New York inter-bank payment system. The campaign is acknowledged, including by Mandela, as the tipping point in the country’s transition to constitutional democracy in 1994. It was a last nonviolent initiative to avert the long feared civil war.
Having been the ANC’s chief negotiator in drafting the post-apartheid constitution, Ramaphosa (not Mbeki) was Mandela’s preferred choice as successor. The exiles however, took control, and the Mass Democratic Movement was disbanded. Modise, as leader of umKhonto-we-Sizwe (the ANC’s armed wing) unleashed a vicious smear campaign against Ramaphosa, who withdrew from active politics in 1997, and went into business.
Mbeki became Mandela’s increasingly unpopular and arrogant successor. The notorious “arms deal” was the pay-back from Mbeki to Modise for removing Ramaphosa. Instead of redressing the apartheid legacies of poverty or HIV/Aids, billions of dollars were squandered on purchases of warships and warplanes from Europe.
There was no conceivable foreign military threat to South Africa to warrant these acquisitions. The very real threat to the country’s security and democracy was (and remains) poverty in a country that is uniquely endowed with natural resources and mineral wealth.
The British, German, Swedish, French and South African governments all shamefully colluded in the payment of bribes to the ANC to secure the contracts. After centuries of colonial plunder, corruption is a tried-and- proven means of destroying a country. There will always be someone, such as Modise, Mbeki and Zuma, willing to do the “dirty work.” Corruption in the “third world” invariably commences in the “first world.”
The up-to 20 year foreign loan agreements for the arms deal (some still outstanding) are textbook examples of “third world” debt entrapment by European banks and governments. Despite huge volumes of evidence, these governments then engaged in numerous cover-ups of the scandal. The arms deal unleashed the culture of corruption that can rightly be described as the betrayal of the struggle against apartheid.
Like Watergate, the cover-ups have proved worse than the original crime. Mbeki was dismissed from the Presidency in 2008 after revelations that he had accepted a bribe from a German contractor, most of the funds being transferred to the ANC. The exiles assumed that once in power it was “their turn to eat,” and attempted systematically to destroy the constitutional checks-and- balances so carefully crafted by Ramaphosa and his colleagues.
Parliament became a rubberstamp, every government department became dysfunctional. The rates of crime and unemployment rocketed.
Ramaphosa nonetheless remained influential within the ANC, and in 2014 became Deputy (Vice) President of South Africa. He remained silent until widespread “state capture” and looting of public resources by the Indian Gupta family in conjunction with Zuma and his associates was exposed in the media and several books, and huge public outrage erupted. Zuma so far has avoided conviction on 18 charges and 783 counts of corruption relating to that 1999 arms deal, but his skillful manipulation of the legal system finally seems to be running out.
After being elected president of the ANC in December 2017 ahead of national elections scheduled next year in 2019, Ramaphosa removed Zuma as president of South Africa on February 15 th . Zuma was given the options of resignation or impeachment. This is now the second time since the transition in 1994 that the president of the country has been removed from office because of abuses of power and corruption.
Just one day later in his address to Parliament on the 16th, President Ramaphosa emphasized the priorities of dealing with corruption, poverty and job creation. Should Ramaphosa fail to unravel the malaise and incompetence that the exiles have inflicted upon the ruling party, the electorate is likely to reject the ANC in next year’s national elections – as happened in municipal elections in the cities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth in 2016.
Ramaphosa has inherited huge economic and other crises but, meanwhile, a renewed mood of hope and optimism again pervades South Africa. There is nonetheless acute awareness that not only has Ramaphosa amassed huge wealth (an estimated US$500 million) since 1997, but also that he was a director of the British-owned Lonmin platinum mine when 34 miners were gunned down by the Police in 2012 in the notorious Marikana massacre.