The anti-Apartheid cleric blames persisting levels of inequality on the secret negotiations entered into between the ANC in exile and erstwhile white rulers, which helped pave the way for a new South Africa, writes CAIPHUS KGOSANA
South Africa’s negotiated settlement was a secret pact between white elites and the elites of the African National Congress, to the exclusion of the black majority that sacrificed a lot during the struggle.
This is according to prominent anti-Apartheid cleric Allan Boesak who was speaking to RealPolitik in Cape Town about his new book that decries former liberators who adopt the ways of their oppressors after they gain power.
“That we should negotiate was never the issue. (But) what was the basis upon which those negotiations took place? Why is it that they negotiated as the elites of the white establishment with the elites of the African National Congress to the exclusion of the people inside the country who had been fighting the struggle? That was a mistake,” he said.
“The conclusions that they came to…we can see they agreed to things that were not in the interests of the vast majority of our people. We get political power; white people keep economic power.”
He said this negotiated settlement was sold to the ANC by western economists and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank who argued for the adoption of a neo-liberal capitalist system and property ownership model, warning that the alternative was an outdated communist model which would damage the economy.
“The deal was that if we let white people keep the wealth and we embrace neo liberal capitalism, then they would open the door for a small number of people to enter at their behest into this new capitalist arrangement, and these people have become the new black elite who I call the political aristocracy.”
Boesak said the price to pay for choosing this neoliberal capitalist system was the high levels of inequality that we live with today.
“We chose a neoliberal capitalist system despite the fact that the evidence from all the world around was telling us this is not a good system. It is a system that demands inequalities, that thrives upon inequalities.”
One of the founders of the United Democratic Front, a non-racial anti-Apartheid movement that operated within the country in the 1980s, Boesak took a swipe at what he said was a biblical form of reconciliation driven by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he dismissed as not radical enough.
“South Africans wanted to get away with what I call a cheap reconciliation. It’s reconciliation on the surface. We feel good about each other, we talk a lot about forgiveness but we never ask what it means. What does it mean if you turn this into political and socioeconomic things?
“If you go the biblical route like the TRC did, you ought to be much more radical because the demands of reconciliation in the bible are radical demands. You can’t have reconciliation that’s cheap, it has to cost somebody something. You can’t have reconciliation without equality because you can only have reconciliation between equals. You can’t have reconciliation without restitution.
“I’m not talking about reparations which is an arbitrary sum that somebody pays. I’m talking restitution, returning to the one that was harmed, that was stolen from. That’s restitution. It’s a more radical form,” he said.
Commenting on the increase in incidents of racism across the country, he said the ideal of non-racialism as espoused by the founders of the post-Apartheid state and encapsulated in catchy phrases such as the “rainbow nation” had failed because South Africans have not properly dealt with the realities of racism that still exists today.
“We acted as if pronouncing that we are a rainbow nation had taken care of all our racist problems. We never had honest conversations because white people didn’t want to talk about their racism.”
Boeksak said he was not surprised by the many acts of racism and racist motivated violence that includes whites dragging black people behind bakkies, burying them in coffins, assaulting them at various places including food outlets, and other such heinous acts. This happens because the country never truly confronted its racist past.
“My wife says what we have done with racism is we have looked at it, we have declared it dead and we have buried it in graves so shallow that those ghosts arise to haunt us as the simplest and easiest provocation.”
“We wanted to say racism is now all gone because we’ve had a TRC, but we had no acknowledgement of the depth of racism in this country. We’ve had no acknowledgement of repentance because of that.”
He said this was evident in institutions such as former whites only schools which had managed integration well but had failed in entrenching non-racialism, hence incidents such as the one where young black learners at Pretoria High School for Girls had to fight for the right to wear their hair as they please.
“You have teachers in those schools who are as racist as they were 50 years ago. Have we taken them for training?”
On the National Democratic Revolution
Boesak dismissed the ANC’s national democratic revolution as a fake revolution born out of a negotiated settlement that gave blacks political power while whites controlled the economy along with a tiny black elite they allowed onto the table.
“The National Democratic Revolution is a fake revolution that rebaptises the old injustices, that simply takes power from one group to another without that power changing its nature. It remains an oppressive power, it remains an exploitative power.
“We have got a revolution that pretends to be a revolution but actually it’s a deal that was made with the old white elites,” he said.
On the ANC and the state of the nation
Boesak said the struggle for a new South Africa was worth it despite the direction the country was taking at the moment. He said he was disappointed at what the ANC, of which he is no longer a member, had morphed into.
“The people must stand up to the ANC and say you are no the organisation we recognise ourselves in,” said the charismatic cleric who led the ANC in the Western Cape in the early 90s.
Boesak, however, did not want to join those who openly call for President Jacob Zuma must resign. He said the problems of the ANC and the country were far deeper than that. He was also sceptical that any of those that are lining up to replace Zuma at the December elective conference were capable of addressing South Africa’s myriad of issues. Neither does he believe that any of the current opposition parties can solve the country’s problems if they took power.
“We must not labour under the misunderstanding that simply getting rid of President Zuma is going to save the African National Congress. That is a reductionist thinking that is not helpful. The problem goes much deeper, the issues are far more fundamental, not just for the ANC but for the country.”
On the church and politics
He defended the right of the church to enter the political realm and take positions on a number of issues. Zuma had suggested in 2015 when more church leaders began condemning him and the ANC government, that churches should stay out of politics.
“Why is Mr Zuma saying to the churches that criticise him ‘stay out politics’. But the churches that embrace him, he loves them. There’s always a temptation for governments when the church speaks truth to that power to tell the church you have no right, stay out of it. They can’t do that.”
On his political ambitions
Boesak (71) said he had no intentions to get back into politics but was hoping to play a more active role in a civil society movement that will bring together South Africans from all corners and have them conversing about how to take the country forward just as the UDF did in the 80s.
In his book titled Pharaohs on Both Sides of the Blood Red Waters, Boesak takes in conversations he had with FeesMustFall activists in South Africa, Black Lives Matter activists in the United States and Palestinians fighting for the recognition of their state. He outlines how often in struggles; former liberators turn into oppressors once they gain political power.
On his conviction and sentence
Boesak, who was convicted in 1999 of misappropriating US$500 000 in donor funds and spent a year at Pollsmoor Prison before being released and pardoned, still believes that what he went through was a travesty of justice.
“Not everything was what it seems then and the travesty of justice that transpired is probably part of the trauma we are dealing with right now. What happened to me is not important; that I have survived all of that is far more important,” he said.