Freedom Charter feature

Former Finance Minister, Trevor Manual, at the World Econonmic Forum in 2007.

No real freedom is possible under neoliberal monopoly capitalism

There is little doubt that the Charter envisaged that an end to apartheid and the establishment of a non-racial democracy would open up a period of freedom and prosperity. In doing so, the Charter indirectly posed the question of the relationship between democracy and capitalism given the closely intertwined nature of the apartheid system and capitalism itself.

In many ways, the underlying assumption in the Charter in this regard is identical to that of the two-stage theory of the NDR. That is, once political democracy is achieved the pursuit of “freedom and prosperity” must take place on a capitalist terrain that is deracialised for the benefit of the majority (the first stage).

Such an approach can be most clearly seen in the Charter’s economic clause wherein nationalisation was to be used as the main vehicle for a deracialised, non-monopoly form of capitalism. In other words, the (white) monopolies had to be broken up so that a new emerging black business (capitalist) class could compete on a more equal basis.

Whatever benefits that would accrue to the poor, working class masses would thus be through the democratic state’s willingness – on behalf of the people – to use the nationalised capital to enhance and expand the masses general economic “opportunities”.

In the event though, the practical abandonment of nationalisation by the ANC and SACP leadership, effectively put to bed any prospect of testing whether the ‘theory’ of non-monopoly capitalism is possible.  Instead, in the post-1994 era the monopoly character of South Africa’s economy was allowed to remain intact and thus too, the overall economic status quo.

As has been shown, the growth of a new section of black capitalists has produced a commonality of interests between old and new elites. That commonality has ensured, beyond the small circles of elites, a relative societal stability during the first 20 years of democracy. Some former comrades and township dwellers now have a real material interest in the capitalist economic system. The clear association that black workers made between ‘race’ and class and apartheid and capitalism in the 1980s has become blurred as the baas that carries out the business of exploitation not only has a white but also a black skin.

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Indeed, monopoly capitalism has been fully supported by the ANC/SACP government. The ‘reasonable men’ that have gone quietly about their business of dominating every sector of the economy, now have equally ‘reasonable men’ running the political affairs of the country. The ANC has performed the required functions of a capitalist government as well as can be reasonably expected. Neo-liberalism was the chosen policy of monopoly capitalism, and the adoption of GEAR by the ANC government, confirmed the inevitable.

Nonetheless, the ANC/SACP government claims that it continues to strive for the realisation of the ideals and vision of the Freedom Charter. Amongst others, BEE is supposedly a reasonable variant of the Charter’s requirement that the wealth of the country be shared by all.

However, the promised prosperity and freedom has not been realised for the working class in the townships, on the farms and in the villages throughout the country. Are the masses expected to extend the period of patience? Should they accept the idea that the fulfilment of the minimum programme (i.e. the Freedom Charter minus its ‘core’) and the first stage of the NDR requires more time?
Furthermore, it is obvious that ‘brotherhood’ and sisterhood are impossible if 80% of the brothers and sisters live lives of poverty, insecurity and social misery, while the other 20% live in luxury and privilege at the expense of the 80%. The gross inequalities in the country and the related increase in inequality, poverty and unemployment have everything to do with the monopoly capitalist character of South African economy and society.
As the celebrated poet and writer James Baldwin once stated: ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed if it is not faced’. Twenty years after 1994, what needs to be ‘faced’ is that neoliberalism’s political/ ideological understanding of, and practical approach to, development and democracy has been accepted and institutionalised by the ANC government.

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Rather than seeing development as a metaphorical ‘house’ whose stability and habitability requires, first and foremost, the laying of a foundation of basic needs/services for the majority who live in it, they have chosen to focus on supporting and strengthening the upper ‘floors’ in the (vain) belief that doing so will not only make the house look more presentable but will somehow work its way down to the foundation. This is neo-liberalism’s “trickle down” approach to development and addressing the needs of the poor.

The pursuit of this kind of developmental plan not only demands that the accumulative ‘needs’ of the capitalist class be the foundation of growth and prosperity ‘for all’, but also that the enduring socio-economic conditions of the workers and poor themselves be identified as the main impediment to such accumulation and thus to development itself (as opposed to the other way round).

What has been done is to falsely twin democracy to the needs of the capitalist market. In turn, this has produced an ongoing ‘crisis of democracy’ wherein institutionalised practices and forms of representative democracy such as elections and local government structures make increasingly little difference since the key societal (developmental) decisions are taken by the capitalists and their ‘market’.

The result is a forced and false ‘growth’ consensus that mainly benefits the capitalist bosses and the new black elite that the ANC government is so keen to build.  The growing class inequalities between rich and poor and the continued exploitation of workers will only be further masked by the manufactured appearance of a political and socio-economic consensus amongst all South Africans.

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