Against the Current, No. 26, May/June 1990
Editors of the South African Labor Bulletin
THE UNBANNING OF the African National Congress (ANC) and the Communist Party (SACP) is an enormous victory for the people of South Africa Many years of struggle and suffering have paved the way for this moment There will be celebrations throughout the country—and outside it.
The moment holds great opportunities for further progress to freedom. But it also holds great dangers.
Opportunities. The unbanning of the ANC, SACP, and the United Democratic Front (UDF) and other organizations opens tremendous scope for reorganizing and strengthening the mass democratic movement. The widened political space will create opportunities for deepening and broadening militant now struggle for the end of apartheid.
Dangers. Nonetheless the moment holds great dangers.
De Klerk has not only responded to the struggles of the people. He is also making a carefully calculated strategic movement which, he hopes, will weaken the democratic forces and safeguard white privileges as well as the capitalist system. He has made very few concrete concessions on the abolition of apartheid. Of course, he has nowhere made clear whether he will be prepared to abandon apartheid and hand power over to the democratic majority.
It is also worth noting that his solution for the current economic crisis is to reduce the role of the public sector and encourage rampant free enterprise. This dashes totally with the program of the democratic movement, which is to restructure the economy through nationalizing the “commanding heights.”
It is important to note that De Klerk is a very intelligent and wily politician. These are not panic-stricken actions—he is extremely confident, and his moves have been carefully planned. By conceding many of the demands of the democratic movement, he is hoping to pull the rug from under its feet, and thus to seize the initiative.
In many ways, it is in De Klerk’s interests to start negotiations as soon as possible. Government officials have said they are expecting to negotiate before the end of this year. De Klerk will try to establish a negotiating forum where me ANC is simply one group amongst many. With Inkatha, the Tricameral parties, the DP, etc. all sitting around one table, he will seek to negotiate a “power-sharing” formula, which “accommodates all group interests.” In this scenario De Klerk hopes, the program of the democratic movement will be so watered down that post-apartheid South Africa will be no threat to white privileges or to capitalism.
This view of the negotiating process contrasts with that of the democratic movement Broadly speaking, the democratic movement believes negotiations should be about the procedures for transferring power to the majority, i.e. to a democratically elected constituent assembly.
Hoping to divide the democratic movement However, De Klerk clearly hopes to move so rapidly, and so boldly, that the democratic movement cannot counter his proposals. In the process, he hopes to sow confusion and exploit divisions in the ranks of the democratic movement. Ideally, he would like to split the ANC into “moderate” and “radicals.” He would also like to drive a wedge between the SACP and the ANC, and between Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the “legalized” ANC. Thus he would like to see “moderates” and the “middle-ground” moving to negotiate on his terms, while isolating and neutralizing the “radicals” and the SACP. The struggle for unity becomes all the more important.
Negotiations. There is great pressure—international and internal—on all parties to negotiate. But starting negotiations has to be distinguished from reaching a settlement.
Broadly speaking, there is heavy pressure on De Klerk to create conditions for starting negotiations. That is why he is moving fast to do this, specifically by beginning to meet ANC preconditions.
On the other hand, if the National Party regime does meet the preconditions of the democratic movement, and if negotiations do start, it will be the ANC that comes under pressure to reach a settlement, i.e., to accommodate the positions of De Klerk. Thus the opening of negotiations, which provides great opportunities, also holds great dangers because of the pressure to compromise.
New political situation. The unbannings create a new political situation. For the first time since 1960, the ANC will operate as a legal mass political organization. For the first time since 1950, there will be a legal Communist Party.
But there are many differences between now and the 1950s. Some are:
• The ANC and the Communist Party have an underground network, together with MK. This would make it very difficult for the state to crush the liberation movement as it did in 1960.
• The mass organizations are much bigger and more highly-organized than they were in the 1950s, and they play a central role in the mass movement.
• The working class is a more highly-organized and conscious component of the democratic movement. This is especially true for COSATU.
•The state has a much more sophisticated and powerful security system than it did in the 1950s.
• Capitalism too has become more powerful and flexible, and more able to survive a transition to non-racialism.
Medium-term possibilities. Broadly speaking, there seem to be three possible outcomes to the current situation:
• The democratic movement goes into negotiations from a weak base, because of internal divisions and lack of strength on the ground. It is forced to accept an extremely compromised settlement, which limits the possibilities for profound transformation in the direction of socialism.
• The democratic movement is powerful, as is the apartheid regime. A protracted stalemate develops, in which the regime is not prepared to meet the democratic demands of the people. Such a situation could see an escalation of mass mobilization and action. The right-wing and security forces could unleash fierce repression against the democratic movement. There could be an ongoing cycle of negotiations and repression, as each side tries to weaken the other.
• A solution favorable for profound democratic transformation (and a possible transition to socialism), may be achieved, either through a negotiated settlement or a seizure of power. Powerful democratically-structured mass organizations engaging in a range of struggles, a broad anti-apartheid alliance, and astute politics on the part of the democratic movement would contribute to such a solution.
May-June 1990, ATC 26
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