In a five-hour marathon speech to the African National Congress (ANC) annual meeting in Mafikeng on December 16, president Nelson Mandela of South Africa lashed out at the white minority for its continued stranglehold of the economy. For the vast majority of Africans, this has been a bitter reality long before Mandela took over as president following the April 27, 1994 elections.
There has been a change of faces only at the political level. Economically, the country remains in the grip of the old guard. The blacks continue to live in hovels in the townships. They still walk miles to reach a road to catch a bus and they still earn a pittance, if they are fortunate to have a job. Unemployment among blacks is more than 30 percent.
Since the official ending of apartheid in 1994, changes have been slow. The means of production (land, factories, mines) and financial institutions, are still firmly in the hands of the whites. The country’s wealth (96 percent of it) is controlled by the six biggest conglomerates - Anglo-American, Sanlam, Rembrant, SA Mutual, Liberty Life and Anglovaal.
In his farewell address as president of the ANC, Mandela acknowledged that the transformation from apartheid to equality was far from over. Yet he blamed the whites for resisting any attempts at implementing affirmative action. They have ‘consistently demonstrated’ their desire to maintain the status quo, he charged.
‘The spokespersons of the advantaged have not hesitated to cry foul, citing all manner of evil, such as racism, violation of the constitution, nepotism, dictatorship, inducing a brain drain and frightening the foreign investor,’ Mandela said. And he did not spare the media either, taking them to task for serving the interests of the white minority.
In his most forthright condemnation of the former white establishment which is still entrenched in important institutions of government, Mandela hinted at a conspiracy to destabilise the country. He said that an underground network of ‘the former ruling group’ was poised to ‘launch or intensify a campaign of destabilisation’ that would include subverting the economy and using crime to ‘render the country ungovernable.’
Crime is perhaps the most serious problem facing the people of South Africa. During decades of apartheid, the pent-up fury of the majority was bottled up. With the controls gone, the genie has been let loose. A soaring crime rate has resulted in the absence of economic change.
This his hit the Africans and non-white populations the hardest. With movement into previously prohibited areas eased and guns freely available, crime has soared in what are referred to as ‘Indian’ and ‘coloured’ areas of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Laudium and Cape Town. ‘Indians’ mean both Hindus and Muslims in South Africa. The police are still deployed largely in predominantly white areas.
Attacks on the homes of ‘Indian’ families have escalated alarmingly with murder, rape and burglaries topping the list. The police are not much help. People have had to resort to hiring private security guards. While other sectors of the economy have declined, security business and sale of related equipment has soared. South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world: 18,000 annually.
Observers have wondered why Mandela chose the Mafikeng convention to voice his harshest criticism of the white minority. There is a growing feeling that the ANC has lost considerable support, even among blacks, for its failure to deliver on promises.
It was never an easy task. High expectations had been built among blacks that once apartheid was dismantled, each one of them would have a decent job and a house. In fact, many envisioned they would simply take over the homes of whites. Little effort was made by the ANC to correct this impression.
Even in areas where the ANC could have done something, it has largely failed. For instance, on the housing front, its record is quite dismal. The promise to build two million houses in five years has simply not materialised. This has even turned a large number of blacks away from the ANC.
Similarly, corruption and nepotism in the upper echelons of the ANC have had a negative effect. Aware that his own constituency is slipping away, Mandela tried to limit the damage by shifting the blame elsewhere. He returned to the old theme of attacking the white establishment when in fact, the ANC has been a willing partner in allowing the whites to retain their stanglehold of the economy.
Large segments of the population, whether whites, Indians, coloured or Malays and even some blacks, have been disappointed with the ANC’s performance. That there has not been open defiance is largely the result of Mandela’s charisma. This may not be a transferable commodity. Thabo Mbeki, annointed his successor who took over as party president at the Mafikeng convention, must still prove his mettle in the 1999 elections.
With growing dissatisfaction among the populace, Mbeki may have a tough fight on his hands even though the ANC continues to enjoy a comfortable lead over its rivals in the opinion polls. Ultimately, the party will be judged on two crucial issues: the economy and crime. So far, its performance has not met expectations.
Muslimedia: January 1-15, 1998