A review of Anthea Jeffery’s updated and abridged People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa. Review by Gabriel Crouse.
The ANC looks invincible. It plunged this country into the longest negative business cycle since WW2. Wealth inequality is worse now than during apartheid and unemployment has skyrocketed. Our education system was described by the Economist as “the world’s worst”. And yet it won 57% of the vote. Why does the ANC seem destined to rule “until Jesus comes”?
After shocking GDP numbers, ANC secretary general Ace Magashule proposed that the party should capture the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) and invent vast amounts of new money to “ease” the situation. A recent Business Day headline was “ANC in all-out war over Bank’s mandate”, but the subheading was more important.
“President [Ramaphosa] breaks his silence after three days, says party will not seek to nationalise central bank”. And yet. The president’s own statement said this: “It is our desire for the South African Reserve Bank to be publicly owned. However, we recognise that this will come at a cost, which given our current economic and fiscal situation, is simply not prudent.”
So the president says he wants to nationalise SARB, not now but later, and Business Day concludes “the party will not seek to nationalise central bank”. Not only are the ANC’s effects not taken seriously, its clearly announced long-term plans are not taken seriously either. It is invincible and, when it says the wrong thing, also unbelievable. The long-term strategy ratified at every major conference since coming to power of pursuing “National Democratic Revolution” is simply shrugged off by most pundits as rhetoric without consequence. Why, after all these years, why?
Dr Anthea Jeffery, an esteemed colleague, has an answer worth taking seriously. She believes we are stuck in our own history, the history of the People’s War, the title of her new book. It took a lifetime of research but reads quick. Jeffery moves from macro-strategy to concrete cases of death and burnt flesh without the cloud of sentiment or cheap scandal. Instead, Jeffery’s penetration is human, humble, historic.
As a childhood ANC-lover, born halfway through the people’s war, in 1989, the book is almost unbearable despite its limpid prose. Myth after origin-myth I believed, learned until matric, continue to hear repeated at cocktail parties and braais from Soweto to Saxonwold – debunked.
The ANC was the “sole authentic representative” of black South Africa.
By the start of 1976, Moscow had all but given up funding the ANC/SACP because it had proved so ineffective. After the Soweto Revolt on 16 June and the rise of Black Consciousness outside the ANC, Moscow suddenly panicked. Had it backed the wrong horse? Too late to switch sides, Moscow ramped up funding and began to pull strings.
Its command of the Soviet bloc was immense and it was able to lobby newly liberated African countries and naifs like the Netherlands into declaring, at the UN General Assembly, that the ANC was the “sole authentic representative” of SA.
This despite the fact that Inkatha’s Mangusuthu Buthulezi was far more popular in KwaZulu and Soweto, where stadiums filled to hear him speak. After all, his refusal to accept “independent” status for KwaZulu crushed the apartheid plan of separate development more surely than anything else. And Buthelezi was no communist sympathiser.
Inkatha membership dwarfed the ANC’s with hundreds of branches in Gauteng and a massive base in the heartland. There was also competition from Azapo, the PAC and others. By 1992, the ANC’s own data indicated that it could not win a majority in an all-race poll, confirmed by independent sources. The UN’s “sole authentic representative” fiction needed more time to become reality.
MK’s primary military objective was to drive the NP to the negotiating table.
False. Before the ANC/SACP was unbanned and leaders, including Mandela, were released, the people’s war cost over 5 000 lives, mostly black. After this, and before eventual election, another 15 000+ lives were lost.
Following general Võ Nguyên Giáp’s formula for people’s war in Vietnam, the military objective, codified in the ANC’s Green Book: Lessons from Vietnam, was to ramp up violence during negotiations to wipe out potential opposition in the dispensation to come. Most of the 15 000+ were black, too – the key military objective. Though this would not have been known to some valiant MK operatives.
The ANC’s primary political objective was universal franchise.
An all-race vote, had it come “too soon”, would likely have cost the ANC, by allowing for the establishment of an NP/IFP coalition. The ANC did not want this and so scuppered negotiations again and again until the “time was ripe”. The ANC needed not only to win a majority but also to ensure that SA did not adopt a federal system in which provinces could make their own laws and budgets, significantly decentralizing the power that the ANC needed all to itself.
The 1994 election was credible, free and fair.
The Independent Electoral Commission was ANC-dominated. 13 million lived in “no-go” areas for campaigning. Black local councillors and police were killed, NP township candidates chased out, IFP leaders were killed (over 300 by 1994). Necklacings, handgrenades and AK-47s were used to intimidate people into supporting the ANC. “No-go” areas were said not to be worth competing in by the IEC, because people “already made up their minds”. Millions of ballots were irregular and no final result could be computed, so the election was effectively decided by negotiation, with all parties reluctant to ask for a recount or a recast because the ANC would bring back terror to the townships and heartlands of South Africa.
Political violence was due to the white “third force”.
The police did have many informants, impimpi, against whom the necklace was brutally used. But the only evidence to pass prosecutorial muster of “third force” activity was against one Eugene de Kock, who was seen handing over two truckloads of arms to the IFP in 1993. By this time, De Kock had already been forced to resign in shame for his self-enriching corrupt dealings and would eventually be prosecuted on scores of charges in this regard.
The Boipatong Massacre was the most famous “third force” case where whites in black face-paint were said to be killing to ruin peace. The Goldstone Commission concluded that the police played no part, and the 1999 TRC investigation found “that [IFP] perpetrators of the massacre were telling the truth when they said they had acted on their own and without police help”.
Still, Ramaphosa held De Klerk personally responsible for Boipatong and the myth lives on today, just as Giap’s formula for People’s War dictates.
History is past, there is no relevance to people’s war today.
The biggest obstacle for the ANC was its communist roots and its socialist end-goal. Most South Africans were not and are not attracted to this. So it had to hide the red and harass black (economically) centrist rivals into submission. Now it continues to look popular (57%) although only 1 in 4 adults voted for it. With stayaways being the biggest block in SA politics, who can doubt the still-unacknowledged and unrepentant murder of thousands and harassment of millions bares a connection to fear about actively voting for a more centrist alternative?
Another hangover is this; Giap’s formula called for the ANC to pretend to be “business friendly” despite its true communist allegiance. Party insiders whose careers were shaped by this surely hear talk of making SA “business friendly” and think this is a continuation of the sham. So the talk increasingly does not get backed by real policy reform. That the biggest talker, Ramaphosa, also brought forward the biggest socialist push, EWC, suddenly seems less like a paradox.
Outsiders, on the other hand, remain convinced that the ANC should only be believed when it means business. So Business Day hear the president say he wants to nationalise SARB at a later date and concludes that he does not want to nationalise SARB at all.
Meanwhile, 20 million South Africans live in the ANC’s promised NDR future, on state-owned land where the State holds all the purse-strings of grants and patronage. Poor black people are the harshest victims of the ANC’s push back to a Soviet future. Urbane South Africa looks away from this, just as it does the history of the people’s war.
People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa by Dr Anthea Jeffery, Head of Policy Research at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). It is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers and is available at all good bookstores.
Gabriel Crouse is the George F D Palmer Financial Journalist Trust Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by sending an SMS to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply).