Post-Apartheid South Africa: A Reply to John Saul. (Exchange)

By Cronin, Jeremy | Monthly Review, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Post-Apartheid South Africa: A Reply to John Saul. (Exchange)


Cronin, Jeremy, Monthly Review


John Saul has had an extensive and committed involvement with Southern Africa. His analyses are taken seriously in left circles in South Africa. Sadly, perhaps understandably, his most recent extended visit to this country has left him feeling deeply disappointed ("Cry for the Beloved Country: The Post-Apartheid Denouement," Monthly Review 52, no. 8, January 2001, pp. 1-51). This sense of disappointment is rooted, I would guess, partly in the intellectual, organizational and even emotional energies that Saul, like many others, invested in the solidarity struggle against apartheid, and in legitimate expectations for a post-apartheid South Africa. There is also, and I want to underline my own empathy with his irritation on this score, a hint of personal hurt: "The most startling thing I personally discovered about the New South Africa is just how easy it has become to find oneself considered an ultraleftist!" (p. 1) This sense of disappointment, even of betrayal, is also present in many progressive circles within South Africa, and indeed among many cadres of our movement. Despite all of this there is, I believe, something seriously off-beam in Saul's analysis.

Saul's article has two layers, two sensibilities, two organizing paradigms running through it. To borrow and amend Gramsci's epigram, we have, woven imperceptibly together, a healthy pessimism of the intellect, and a problematic cynicism of the will.

There was another factor, fraught with dangers for the liberation movement, but which also served to weaken the strategic trajectory of the apartheid regime. With the waning of the Cold War, there was, from the side of the major imperialist powers, a relative (but not complete) shift of strategy from supporting regional gendarmes in the South. Increasingly, though the late 1970s and into the decade of the 1980s, domination of the South was exercised through financial control, and the concomitant fostering of negotiated transitions to "centrist," elite-pacting dispensations, producing "democratic" governments capable of driving through macroeconomic austerity, liberalization, and privatization measures with a degree of local legitimacy.

On the one hand, there is a relatively nuanced analysis of the complexity of the South African negotiated transition and its legacy on the post-1994 situation. I do not think that Saul would disagree fundamentally with, for instance, the South African Communist Party (SACP) characertization of the underlying determinants of the negotiated transition. These determinants were both positive and negative for the liberation movement. The apartheid regime was brought to the negotating table by sustained, semi-insurrectionary mass truggles that had rolled on, in a series of waves, from 1976 through to the democratic elections of April 1994; growing international isolation, notable financial and arms sanctions, mobilized by an outstanding lgoabl solidarity network; a deepedning sturcutral crisis of South African capitalism; and a shifting balance in the conventinal armed forces equation in Southgern Africa, marked by the defeat of apartheid troops by Cuban and Angolan forces arouind Cuito Cuanavale, in southern Angola in 1987.

These factors all served to weaken the increasingly militarized apartheid white minority ruling bloc, but there were other factors that compelled the African National Congress (ANC)-led liberation movement to look seriously at negotiations. The Southern African frontline states that had supported the South African struggle (unevenly, but, in several cases generously and heroically) were increasingly taking strain due to vicious apartheid destabilization, the crippling impact of enforced structural adjustment programs, and internal weaknesses and bureaucratization. The stagnation, then collapse of the Soviet bloc, had a major impact on the strategic calculations of the liberation movement. …

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