A Mass-Driven Transformation Jeremy Cronin analyzes the underlying dynamics of the South African transition. A South African Students Congress militant: "At the national political level, the advent of the negotiations has seen a continuous marginalization of the masses of our people. Instead of playing a central role in shaping the direction the struggle takes in the era of negotiations, the masses found themselves sidelined." --from an unpublished discussion document, May 1994 Mac Maharaj, leading ANC negotiator and now Minister of Transport: "We are on the threshold of achieving our lifetime's objectives...We have put national unity and reconciliation on the forefront of the first government...Those achievements are what the people wanted and what the people gave their lives for." --The Star, 1 May 1994 The very substantial election victory of the ANC-led alliance in South Africa at the end of April was an important moment in a complex transition process. But it was, clearly, neither the beginning nor the end of that process. Many struggles to overcome the legacy of apartheid still lie ahead. To wage those struggles it is important to understand what has happened over the last four years. This is particularly important for the South African left and democratic forces, because, despite the euphoria of the election victory, there is simultaneously in the ranks of hundreds of thousands of militants a substantial disorientation. Our real successes as a liberation movement are obscured by the fact that the way in which they have been won does not square with our traditional Marxist-Leninist (insurrectionary) and national liberation (handing over of power) paradigms. As a result, overstatement of our achievements (see the fairly typical quotation from Maharaj above) coexists with considerable skepticism (see the equally typical SASCO militant quotation). Unless we understand analytically and strategically what we have actually done, we are liable not to understand how to carry the struggle forward. Let's go back four years. In a major policy speech on February 2 1990, F.W. de Klerk announced the unbanning of the ANC, the SACP and the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress). The speech opened up the new negotiations terrain and it signalled the strategic defeat of the apartheid regime's project of smashing the national liberation movement. However, if from the national liberation side we had strategically defeated the apartheid project, we had certainly not physically defeated our opponent. The broad liberation movement had gone from strength to strength in the course of ongoing semi-insurrectionary struggles throughout the 1980s. But the regime's security forces retained a relative monopoly on armed power. Our own guerrilla forces had never carried the armed struggle much beyond a mobilizing, armed propaganda phase. Our real strength lay in a broad sweep of social and community based movements (trade unions, township based civics, youth, women, student, progressive religious, rural and many other formations) mostly within the broad umbrella of the ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance. The situation in the southern African frontline and indeed globally had become less favorable to our liberation movement through the 1980s. While the apartheid regime could continue to rule, it could no longer govern. On the other hand, the prospect of a popular insurrectionary seizure of power, to which the SACP's 1989 programme was committed, remained relatively remote. The decade of 1990s opened up with a situation in South Africa aptly captured by Gramsci's phrase: "a state of reciprocal siege". De Klerk embarked on his new course with a relatively clear strategy, informed by the neoliberal "transition to democracy" paradigm, a paradigm for "managing" transitions away from "authoritarian" regimes towards some kind of democracy. This paradigm, based on comparative studies of transitions in southern Europe, Latin America and now eastern Europe, coincides with shifts in imperialist strategic policies, accompanied by the increasing globalization of the capitalist economic system, growing dominance of financial institutions, the end of the Cold War and, of course, mass struggles for greater democracy and social justice in many parts of the world. De Klerk's objective was to engage the ANC in a relatively protracted, elite negotiations process. He hoped, in the process, to consolidate a new non-racial political center, with himself at the center. In all of these aspirations he was encouraged and influenced by the major imperialist powers. For De Klerk and the imperialists the South African situation presented, however, certain complex challenges. They based their strategies on transitions to multi-party democracy in which they had done relatively well (the Philippines or Nicaragua, for instance). But, in the South African case, the transition is not just a democratization process but also a decolonization process. This reality, and the particular history of South Africa, presented a dilemma. There was no obvious, third force Cory Aquino or Violeta Chamorro. The most likely candidate was De Klerk himself, but he had the inescapable disadvantage, in the South Africa reality, of being a white male. In the 1970s liberal capital in South Africa and internationally had tried to construct Buthelezi into a black liberal, but the attempt had failed largely because of Buthelezi's own brutal reliance on a Bantustan base. In the absence of alternatives a great deal of energy has gone over the last four years into building De Klerk into a Cory. But strategically, our opponents also sought to broaden the center with Buthelezi's Inkatha and a "tamed" ANC. This meant trying to transform a more or less regionalist and ethnic Inkatha into a national political party; and the moderation of the ANC by separating ANC leadership from their one major source of strength, their mass base. Quite quickly, these different threads of our opponents' strategy were woven together. In August 1990 the ANC announced, as a gesture of good faith in the negotiation process, the suspension of the armed struggle. Within days of the announcement, Inkatha declared its transformation into a national political party, and this coincided with a dramatic upsurge in political violence in the industrial heartland of South Africa, in the PWV region centered on Johannesburg. The low-scale war that had been raging between ANC and Inkatha-supporting Zulu- speakers in Natal for several years, was now exported to the Transvaal. Inkatha war-lord structures, trained and armed by South African Police and Defence Force intelligence and special operation networks, used migrant worker hostels in the PWV as launching pads for the destabilization agenda. For Inkatha, the violence projected it as a national force. For the regime, the violence destabilized ANC mass bases and it could be projected as "black on black" violence, senseless tribal killings, "proof" that Africans are unfit to govern themselves. This is, of course, a time-honored strategy of colonial and neocolonial powers (US secretary of state John Foster Dulles once said, in the 1950s, that the best way to maintain US power in the Pacific was "to let Asians fight Asians"). The ANC-alliance was, at first, organizationally and strategically ill-prepared for this two-track strategy. De Klerk was simultaneously talking to us, and kicking us under the table. All of this was happening at a time when we were involved in the complex process of forging some kind of unity out of an ANC emerging from jail, the underground, an often distant and lengthy exile, and from the mass struggles of the 1970s and '80s. There were disjunctures in age (Mandela was born in 1918, ANC secretary general Ramaphosa in 1952) and in political culture. Some had been soldiers or diplomats for decades, others, usually thirty years younger, had been the core cadreship of social movements. Most of the senior leadership (old and young) were engaged in negotiations, telling our constituency to be patient. As negotiations dragged on, and appeared to be more and more complex and inaccessible, our increasingly angry and confused mass base experienced no change. Unemployment was rising, all the chronic social and economic problems persisted and, worst of all, the political violence was spiralling while the ANC (inexplicably in the view of much of our base) had suspended the armed struggle. Attempts by ANC negotiators to explain the negotiations to the base were undermined by the violence itself, which made routine organizational meetings difficult to hold in many localities. The violence, very deliberately, assumed two forms: the general destabilization and demoralization of ANC strongholds through random mass terror (like the mass killings on trains and mini-buses), and targeted assassination of second and third layer cadres -- the critical organizational connection between national leadership and the base. Organizational and strategic weaknesses from the ANC side ensured that, for the first two years, De Klerk generally held the strategic initiative within the negotiation process. Internationally, playing on Western racial stereotypes, De Klerk was able to project himself as an honest broker, above the sordid ANC-Inkatha squabble. In the course of 1992, however, matters began to change. By the beginning of the year the first round of multi-party negotiations (CODESA) had become deadlocked. De Klerk was determined to negotiate a final, power-sharing constitution in this non-representative multi-party forum. He demanded a permanent power-sharing constitution which would guarantee equal cabinet representation to the three largest parties and a troika (obviously he had in mind Mandela, De Klerk and Buthelezi) of rotating presidents! The ANC alliance consistently argued for a two-stage process - multi-party negotiations to negotiate transitional arrangements, followed by elections for a Constituent Assembly. In the face of this deadlock, and growing impatience within the ANC mass constituency, the ANC alliance launched a protracted campaign of mass actions beginning on June 16 1992. The central demands of the campaign were for an elected Constituent Assembly, and for effective measures against the spiralling violence. The incumbent government and particularly its security and intelligence networks planned to turn the mass action campaign against us, using the campaign as a means for further prolonging the transitional process, thus buying time to transform a whites only National Party into a more electorally feasible non- racial, center-right formation. The disruptions of the mass campaign would be used as a cover to intensify the violence, and to blame it on the ANC's campaign itself. In this way, De Klerk would try to make more inroads into a black constituency wearied by continuous violence and disruption, recruiting this constituency to the center-right National Party in the name of law and order. All of these cards were played in the first days of the 1992 mass action campaign. Unfortunately for De Klerk the cards were played far too transparently, and too cynically. The ANC alliance launched its campaign on June 16. On the night of June 17 hundreds of armed Inkatha hostel-dwellers were escorted by police armored vehicles to an ANC squatter community in Boipatong, where for three hours the Inkatha members went on a rampage through the squatter shacks. At least 39 people, including an infant and a pregnant woman, were slaughtered. Several attempts were made to alert the police in the course of these events -- mysteriously they were not available. In a subsequent judicial investigation the relevant page of the log-book of the nearby police station was found to have been torn out, and the standard recording of all police radio communications in the same station was found to have been "inadvertently" recorded over and indecipherable. On the morning of June 18, the first official reaction to the massacre came from the SA Police spokesperson, Captain Craig Kotze, who told an incredulous South Africa and world that the massacre "was caused by the ANC's mass action campaign". On the same day, the National Party announced a major recruitment drive into black areas. On June 20, De Klerk made an unannounced "sympathy" visit to Boipatong. Instead of receiving a hero's welcome as he had expected, De Klerk, doing his best to look like Cory Aquino, was surrounded by angry squatter camp inhabitants and his convoy was stoned. In the resulting fracas a further three Boipatong inhabitants were shot dead by the police. The wheels of De Klerk's strategy were beginning to come off. The apartheid regime had used "low intensity warfare" tactics with devastating effect in remote parts of Angola and Mozambique, which were far out of reach of the Western media. The inhabitants of Boipatong, however, were less than one hour away from the largest media contingent on the African continent, and on the morning of June 18 told the story of the massacre via CNN and Reuters to the global village. Beyond that, there was a two-day regional general strike in response. Increasingly, the violence, and the growing perception that elements of De Klerk's security forces were implicated, set up contradictions within the ruling bloc itself. These contradictions were personified in John Hall, later chairperson of the National Peace Committee, and a senior executive in the Barlow Rand group of companies. Barlow Rand companies are, amongst other things, involved in the armaments industry and made millions out of the war in Angola and Namibia. John Hall never expressed any qualms about the apartheid destabilization of southern Africa. But Hall, and other captains of industry, increasingly spoke out against the violence in South Africa. Under the aegis of the Peace Committee judicial investigations were set up, which began, to uncover state involvement in the supposed "black- on-black" violence. Mid-June 1992 was to prove a decisive turning point in the negotiations process. In the following two months the ANC's mass action campaign moved into full gear. Thousands of actions took place, including the occupation of city and town centers, and of government buildings, mass marches and general strikes. Although the liberal press in our country portrayed this period as a bleak moment in which the negotiations process was stalled, the reality was very different. In many respects, the mass action campaign brought the negotiations process down to the base: not only were thousands of communities taking up the national negotiation demands, but they were also using their actions to advance local demands. There were probably more negotiations in the June-August 1992 period than at any other time in our history. Typically, in rural areas for instance, a march from the township into the "white" town, or the occupation of an administrative facility, would raise the main national negotiating demands, but also local concerns: the right to use town venues for meetings, a demand for the transfer of a particularly notorious police officer, and so forth. These were often not one-off processes-- they frequently gave birth to, or revitalized local negotiating forums (dispute resolution structures, development forums, etc.). National negotiations had become complex and remote, as one old man from Kathlehong township, referring to the CODESA negotiations, expressed it: "I thought we are to inherit the new South Africa - all of us, including we the illiterate blacks and these stupid boers at these factories in Alberton. But none of us understands the debates." (April 1992) In the midst of the rolling mass actions of mid-1992, in thousands of localities countrywide, communities were claiming the terrain of negotiated transition for themselves. The ANC-alliance was beginning to find its strategic feet in the new situation, combining negotiations and mass struggle. But there was still no complete strategic clarity on our side. Some still attached most importance to the elite negotiations, seeing the mass involvement as, at worst, an unnecessary interruption, or, at best, as merely instrumental (to unblock the negotiations). On the other hand, the mass action was still seen, particularly amongst hundreds of thousands of grassroots activists, but also among some leading ANC and especially SACP members, in a largely insurrectionary perspective -- "the real struggle is for the seizure of power, the negotiations are incidental, at best they create space for us to marshall our own insurrectionary forces." This strategic confusion characterized the fateful September 7 march on Bisho in 1992, where Brigadier Gqozo's Bantustan security forces killed 28 marchers and wounded 198. Equivocating in the message we conveyed to our mass base -- between establishing a physical presence in Bisho versus actually taking power over the town -- we tempted the other side into believing that it could "teach us a lesson" and still occupy the moral high ground. Following the Bisho events, our own 1992 rolling mass action campaign faltered. However, by the beginning of September, the mass campaigns had already altered the balance of forces at the negotiating table, as the September 26 1992 Record of Understanding, between the ANC and De Klerk's government, was to confirm. This bilateral agreement (De Klerk had been forced out of the multilateral negotiation framework that he favoured) achieved two fundamental objectives. For the first time, De Klerk agreed to the ANC alliance two-stage process with elections for a Constituent Assembly. He also agreed, at least on paper, to take a tougher stand on those hostels that had become armed bases for destabilization. The latter commitment and the fact that De Klerk had entered this accord bilaterally angered Buthelezi, and effectively broke the back of the NP-IFP strategic alliance. Throughout 1993 and up to the April 1994 elections, the negotiation process was, essentially, now based on bilateral agreements which were then taken to the multi-party forum more or less for ratification. These breakthroughs towards the end of 1992 coincided with a major strategic debate inside of the ANC alliance. The debate was partly motivated by an attempt to come to terms with the lessons of the mass campaign, including the Bisho massacre. But it was primarily centered around a major intervention by SACP chairperson, Joe Slovo, entitled "Negotiations: What room for compromise?" (The African Communist, 3rd quarter, 1992). Slovo argued that: "We are negotiating because towards the end of the '80s we concluded that, as a result of its escalating crisis, the apartheid power bloc was no longer able to continue ruling in the old way and was genuinely seeking some break with the past. At the same time, we were clearly not dealing with a defeated enemy and an early revolutionary seizure of power by the liberation movement could not be realistically posed. This conjuncture of the balance of forces provided a classical scenario which placed the possibility of negotiations on the agenda...But what could we achieve in the light of the balance of forces..? There was certainly never a prospect of forcing the regime's unconditional surrender across the table. It follows that the negotiating table is neither the sole terrain of the struggle for power nor the place where it will reach its culminating point." On the basis of this argument, Slovo proposed certain "principled compromises" -- in particular, in exchange for the agreement on an elected constituent assembly, we should agree to a transitional power-sharing arrangement, in which parties scoring over a certain percentage would be proportionately represented in a transitional cabinet. Slovo's package of proposals were eventually endorsed by the ANC National Executive Committee in February 1993. Most importantly the Slovo scenario also became the framework of the entire settlement which we now have in place. The Slovo proposals, however, touched off a major debate within the ANC alliance, with many seeing in them a betrayal of our commitment to a "seizure of power" (in the SACP Marxist- Leninist traditions), or a full "transfer of power" (in the African liberation movement tradition). It is interesting, however, to revisit Slovo's intervention and particularly the passages quoted above. While I do not disagree with the main tactical point Slovo was trying to make, I think there is still, ironically, a hint of the old seizure of power paradigm, of a "culminating point" in his own argument. Slovo makes room for his proposed negotiation compromises by deferring "the decisive moment" (of "unconditional surrender"?). He did not, therefore, think through the fuller strategic implications of his position, which is perhaps also why he did not, in this extremely influential paper, begin to develop a wider strategy for the transition, beyond a negotiations strategy. By the first quarter of 1993, then, most of the building blocks for the eventual settlement were in place. But there were elements within De Klerk's cabinet and in his security forces who still hankered after their original strategy. There were attempts to woo back Inkatha, at the expense of the bilateral arrangement with the ANC. At the beginning of April 1993 there was still no agreement on an election date. Once more, it was mass action that was to unblock the process. The immediate catalyst for the next round of mass action was a tragedy. Chris Hani, SACP general secretary and easily the most popular politician in South Africa after Mandela, was assassinated on April 10 1993. The intention of the extreme right-wing assassins was to derail the whole negotiation process. And, indeed, the assassination produced a national crisis. Mass anger and a series of mass actions swept the country. In the ten days after the slaying there were the two largest general strikes in our country's history, involving on both occasions over 4 million workers and hundreds of thousands of students and others. The principal demand of these actions was for an unambiguous agreement on an election date. A very wide range of South Africans, including big business, were alarmed by the crisis and the National Party agreed within weeks to the April 1994 election date. But, once more, this round of mass mobilization was not confined to the broad national demands. This was particularly the case in the Eastern Transvaal where a 19- day (May 17-June 5) consumer boycott of white shops was launched. An Eastern Transvaal regional ANC/SACP/COSATU tripartite assessment of the campaign is worth quoting at some length: "The boycott was called in the wake of the assassination of comrade Chris Hani. The main issues of the boycott were: to register the anger of hundreds of thousands of people in the region at comrade Chris's slaying; an early announcement of an election date and a speedy transition to democracy... "Originally, the alliance had planned to target the businesses of extreme right-wingers in the white community. The object was to isolate the most reactionary forces. However, we found we lacked information about the white community. We didn't know who was who. This, in itself, reflects the situation in the Eastern Transvaal, where baasskap has remained deeply entrenched. There has been virtually no engagement, no talking between the townships and the white communities. The boycott has begun to reverse this. Right from the start, the boycott organizers kept their door open. They were always prepared to engage business-people and local authorities in discussion. By the second week the white community was calling for meetings in dozens of localities. "The boycott organizers took the decision to engage organized business, the provincial authorities and the security forces on a regional basis. On June 5, the ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance met with SACOB, the Sakekamer, the Afrikaans Handelsinstituut, Eskom, the Transvaal Provincial Administration, the Regional Services Council, and the SADF and SAP. "The meeting was a major breakthrough. A joint statement agreed on: joint action to ensure a speedy transition to democracy; security forces and government to take firm action against security force members and others interfering with free political activity; a joint tripartite alliance/SADF delegation to verify the de-electrification of the SA/Mozambique border fence... the phasing out of the inhumane bucket system, still prevalent in a number of townships in the region. This system is to be replaced with flushing toilets. Joint alliance and RSC subcommittees will be established to oversee this process; reactivating steps to establish a Regional Economic Forum. It has also been agreed that review meetings will occur every 60 days to assess progress in all these areas." (published in Umsebenzi, Vol.9, No.2, 1993). Obviously, not all agreements actually get implemented in practice. When the pressure is lifted, there is a dragging of feet from the other side. Our popular structures, for their part, often lack the capacity to follow through on negotiation victories. Nevertheless, the above assessment from the Eastern Transvaal best captures, I believe, the reality of the transition process in which we have been involved. It points the way forward to the ongoing struggles to deepen democracy, to overcome the legacy of apartheid, and to empower working people. To carry our momentum forward, beyond the elections, neither our old insurrectionary/transfer of power paradigms, nor the elite-driven transition approach are going to be helpful. Our experience of the transition over the last four years underlines the need for an ongoing process of mass- driven structural reforms at all levels of our society. Broadly speaking, this is precisely the direction in which the ANC programme for governance (Reconstruction and Development Programme -RDP) is pointing, with its commitment to "a people-driven process": "Development is not about the delivery of goods to a passive citizenry. It is about active involvement and growing empowerment. In taking this approach we are building on the many forums, peace structures and negotiations that our people are involved in throughout the land." The RDP also links reconstruction and development to the deepening of democracy: "Thoroughgoing democratization of our society is...absolutely integral to the whole RDP. The RDP requires fundamental changes in the way that policy is made and programmes are implemented. Above all, the people affected must participate in decision-making. Democratization must begin to transform both the state and civil society. Democracy is not confined to periodic elections. It is, rather, an active process enabling everyone to contribute to reconstruction and development." The April election has, once more, altered the relative balance of forces in our country. It has considerably strengthened the ANC-alliance. In the government of national unity the ANC is dominant (these ANC cabinet minsters include three communist ministers and one deputy minister). The ANC is also strong in the 400-seat National Assembly (with over 60 percent of the deputies, including 49 communists). In the 90-seat senate the ANC has exactly two- thirds (60) of the senators. In most of the nine provincial assemblies there are also large ANC majorities. But the balance of forces remains complex, the security forces, the civil service, the control and ownership of the economy, the judiciary - in all of these areas, we are inheriting a white-minority and capitalist legacy. Protracted transformation struggles lie ahead. In the past we tended to conceptualize change as a struggle to capture the commanding heights, to nationalize ownership and control. We will be more faithful to the fundamentals of our national liberation and socialist heritage, and more useful to the actual tasks at hand, if we begin to think, as the Reconstruction and Development Programme starts to think, of the main task as being about a process of democratizing power. All power.