Transition of an Unexpected Type Raymond Suttner details the prospects for South Africa after the April 1994 elections. Revolutionaries and progressives throughout the world are watching with great interest the unfolding transition in South Africa. Battered by numerous disappointments and setbacks, many no doubt observe with hope but also with trepidation. The South African process is unfolding at precisely the moment when the left worldwide is in disarray, when all models have been cast into doubt. The changed conjuncture that led to the present situation in our country coincided with the changed international balance of forces. This saw the collapse of the "organized socialist system" and the widespread questioning of the possibility of any order other than capitalism, in particular a rampant aggressive Thatcherite/Reaganite version. The South African liberation movement, Communist and non-Communist alike, has been confronted by this changed conjuncture to which it had to respond with new strategies and tactics. It was also one of many national liberation movements gripped by a particular statist notion of change. The conception of transition and transformation presupposed quick results of a substantial nature upon taking political office. (It should be noted, however, that the trade union movement, community organizations such as the civics and certain other internally-based structures had already started to move away from this approach.) During the four years of negotiations following the unbanning of the ANC, the complex reality of power relations and the inadequacy of simple notions of "transfer of power" have led to participation in a variety of negotiation forums as well as continued struggles. (See the debate in The African Communist, 3rd and 4th quarter, 1993.) The particular mode of transition through elections and a Government of National Unity (GNU) is only one aspect of a change in power relations different from that previously envisaged by the liberation movement. There is not really consensus over all its implications, and thus far, there has been remarkably little discussion and agreement over broad strategy. Insofar as there may be agreement it is still not widely diffused amongst the democratic forces and the leadership itself. What this means is that much of our membership has emerged from an insurrectionary period without fully adapting to a new terrain requiring different modes of struggle and thinking. The fact that the leadership have not articulated a changed perspective with one voice and that some interpretations lead to suspicions of unwarranted compromise has made the necessary change of strategy even more difficult. The past four years have seen a pattern of ex-post facto analysis of actions already taken, rather than the development of a broad approach within which actors have conducted themselves. From the earliest days of the return of the exiled ANC leadership, ad hoc decisions were taken which were later seen to have substantial strategic implications. The impact of these decisions was only subsequently and occasionally analyzed. DECISIVE MOMENT Despite these weaknesses, the April 1994 elections constituted a decisive moment in the process of liberation of South Africa. It is the practice of some brands of thinking to see moments not as moments but as culminations of processes. Just as the former regime was wont to describe the February 1990 freeing of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the liberation movements as the end of struggle and to one-sidedly depict the road ahead as one of negotiations, there are some who see the elections as having liberated the National Party (NP) from its racist past and the ANC from mass struggle. There are many in the ANC who also speak of the elections having been the day of liberation, implying that liberation was completed on that day. It is important to understand the decisive and qualitative nature of the break which the elections victory represents. Simultaneously it is equally important to appreciate that the break also represents a phase in an ongoing process -- a process which will reach different destinations depending on our evaluation of the moment and our conceptions of its development towards its goal. South Africa's first democratic election had many remarkable features. As mentioned in an earlier article (CrossRoads, April 1994), negotiations were continuing well into the election campaign. Only six days before polling, one of the main reactionary forces, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), decided to participate in the elections. It appears that the IFP turnaround may have been due to an illegal deal between IFP head Mangosuthu Buthelezi and then- President F.W. de Klerk, whereby large tracts of land in the KwaZulu/Natal area was transferred to the control of the Zulu King to be administered under customary land tenure. Apart from strengthening the hand of the IFP as a counter- force to the central government, this form of tenure allows for extensive patronage and also denies rights to women. In addition, the weeks preceding the elections were marked by vicious bombings and widespread violence in general. Even in a country accustomed to violence, the magnitude of the explosions was staggering. Windows of offices (including ANC Headquarters in Johannesburg) hundreds of yards from one car bomb were shattered only a few days before the election. Much of the city was cordoned off and an atmosphere of fear reigned amongst large sections of the population. Rumors abounded. Many whites started to panic and stocked up on canned foods. So extensive was this buying, that many items could not be supplied for some weeks. At an ANC meeting, domestic workers told of "madams" (their employers) saying that after the elections there would be three weeks of war and that power supplies would be cut. They were advised to stock up on non-perishable food. In the eyes of many whites, the bombings were a variant of the prelude to the end of the world -- in this case the end of the apartheid world. Since the idea of equality represented the unknown, many whites -- instead of adjusting psychologically -- prepared themselves with that which was known and could be purchased in abundance: material goods. The run-up to elections also saw armed attacks on ANC regional and local offices as well as the Headquarters in Johannesburg. In the latter case, guards retaliated on IFP marchers storming the building with firepower that caused heavy casualties on the side of the attackers. In the upsurge leading to democratic rule two bantustans, Bophuthatswana and Ciskei, collapsed. In the case of the former, white extreme right-wing forces from the AWB (Afrikaner Resistance Movement) sought to rescue the petty dictator, Lucas Mangope, only to be driven out by the formerly puppet armed forces of the now-dissolving bantustan. That the AWB army of overweight but dangerous fascists sustained fatal losses was important. Many will think twice about going on future escapades if the possibility of their deaths, and not merely that of blacks, could await them. ELECTION VICTORY The ANC scored a decisive election victory, winning 62.7 percent of the national vote, (more than 40 percent above their nearest rival, the former ruling National Party) and victory in seven out of nine provinces. But the election was marked by various obstacles and fraudulent practices that indicate that this victory may well have been greater. In Natal, where the result is being contested, the IFP set up an estimated 30 pirate voting stations. According to the ANC, the results from these stations showed a consistent pattern of huge IFP votes plus a smattering of votes for other parties. Policing of the election in the province remained under the control of the KwaZulu Police -- controlled by Buthelezi -- and this power was used to drive ANC supporters and agents out of polling stations. There are also numerous reports of children as young as ten having cast their vote in the region. The ANC lost to the NP in the Western Cape, partly because of subjective weaknesses, but also because of a scurrilous racist campaign aimed at pitting the colored majority against Africans. The NP depicted the ANC policy of affirmative action as driving coloreds out of jobs to make room for Africans. One thing that became clear in the course of the election was that the size of the African national electorate had been underestimated. Whereas non-Africans had been counted individually in the most recent census, the black population had only been estimated through aerial photographs. The issuing of identity documents necessary to vote remained almost entirely the prerogative of the government Department of Home Affairs, which did much to frustrate the ability of Africans to vote. In addition, delivery of ballot papers, generally in abundance in the white areas, often did not arrive for the first two days of polling in the distant areas populated entirely by Africans. There appears to have been both miscalculation and a degree of sabotage/fraud- allegedly linked to Home Affairs officials. People, however, queued -- sometimes for two days -- to cast their vote. The determination of people to wait, no matter how long, testified to the validity of platitudes about people's thirst for freedom. At the same time, there is no doubt that some were not able to overcome the logistical difficulties placed in the way of their voting. GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL UNITY The ANC comes to power or takes office within a government of national unity (GNU), comprising a number of parties that have been responsible for atrocities against the ANC itself, killing many of its leaders and the masses in general. Some of these atrocities are continuing. The GNU results from the interim constitution agreed upon during negotiations, which entitles any party scoring more than five percent of the vote to representation in the cabinet. The GNU is thus a highly contradictory unity in that a government pledged to transformation and democratization combines with elements that have until the elections been in the opposite camp. Of the 400 National Assembly seats, the ANC holds 252, the NP, 82, and the IFP, 43. The remaining 23 seats are shared among the Freedom Front, the Democratic Party, the Pan African Congress and the African Christian Democratic Party. During the first parliamentary debates, the NP and IFP together with all the other parties committed themselves, subject to various reservations, to the implementation of the ANC's Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP). (See excerpts, page xx). Many business sectors and the public in general are also favorably disposed towards the RDP, although they worry about its cost, in particular the possibility of shifting the tax burden onto the wealthy. However, conflicting views are likely to emerge over time as the program is implemented by both ANC and non-ANC ministers, who are not as enthusiastic about implementation, but hold portfolios that are key to the RDP. For example, the Ministry of Mineral and Energy Affairs, which is key to the RDP and includes electrification, has been given to Pik Botha, former NP Foreign Minister. It may be that such a division of portfolios was a necessary compromise, but it is equally crucial that any attempts to use those posts for subversion be counterbalanced by democratic power, in parliament (especially through the standing committees) and through mass organized power. REPRESENTATIVE PARLIAMENT The week of May 24-28 witnessed the first meeting of the new, democratically elected parliament. Neither the new members nor the old are entirely accustomed to their surroundings. But there are already signs of possible substantial transformation of the legislature. Because the ANC demanded that at least one-third of its candidates be women, parliament as a whole is now much more representative of the majority of the population. The ANC's "quota" for women candidates was important in increasing the visibility of women in the campaign and now in parliament. Without the one-third rule, many female candidates may not have been "discovered." However, this policy did not extend to cabinet posts and there are relatively few women ministers. The gender question also impacted on the campaign as a whole, with political parties vying to prove they would deliver gender equality. The country has been made more "gender sensitive" at a constitutional level, through the adoption of a Charter for Women's Equality drawn up by a multi-party Women's National Coalition. Although this gender consciousness is in its embryonic stages in the country as a whole, it is nevertheless significant and may reduce resistance to legislative measures aimed at removing women's inequality. President Mandela's opening address committed the new government to eliminating not only racial inequality, but to a program of ending exploitation of women. Individual women parliamentarians then eloquently elaborated on this theme by addressing the various forms of women's oppression relating not only to the family, but to land rights, housing rights and numerous other aspects of personal and wider social activity. A women's caucus of the ANC has been formed. But the precise role of women in parliament and their relation to forces outside of parliament as well as their impact on government legislation has still to be elaborated. One of the other immediate changes is in the sounds of parliament. Until now the official languages of the country have been arrogantly declared to be only those of the white oppressor -- English and Afrikaans. For the first time ever, speakers addressed the parliament in any of the 11 now- official languages. On the ANC's part, it was a conscious assertion that officiality is not merely a formal right; that people should exercise their democratic rights in parliament or anywhere else in whatever language they consider most comfortable. The people who serve as the ANC's 252 Assemblymembers and 60-odd Senators come from all walks of life, all areas of the country -- in fact places that do not appear on the maps that white South Africans have drawn. In a sense their presence in parliament is an attempt to put these people, who live without water and electricity, without basic health care or education, on the map as far as liberation and transformation is concerned. Despite the visible changes, the South African parliament in its present form is not automatically a vehicle for the type of changes that are needed. It is based on the British model and has until now taken the worst of that system and grafted onto it a particularly undemocratic mode of functioning. In essence, the previous ruling party, in power for 46 years, had perfected a system whereby the cabinet developed legislation and the parliamentarians, the most democratically elected people within that system, were reduced to rubber stamps of the executive. The ANC inherits a system whereby standing committees of parliament are part of the process of passing laws, but where the tradition has been for them to meet behind closed doors and make only minor changes in laws drafted by the cabinet. Although the ANC MPs and Senators are members of the same organization, we do not conceive ourselves as rubber stamps of the cabinet. Nor do we see the process of democratization and transformation as a matter for the executive and legislature alone. The question we confront is how parliament can become an active player and not merely an echo of the executive. Paradoxically, this aim is one that coincides with the interests of the minority parties who would for their own reasons resist a continuation of the system that they perfected, where parliament was reduced to powerlessness. They would, however, be less keen on the further innovation -- popular involvement and input into this process How are the popular masses to be involved in the process and indeed play a wider political role in the years ahead? The masses who voted the ANC into power are not content to be voting fodder, whose expectations are "managed" until the 1999 elections. They will not accept, and I am sure most of the ANC leadership does not envisage, that their role is merely to be spectators over these years. Among the ideas under consideration is the development of the standing committee system -- in some ways similar to that adopted in the U.S. -- whereby committees are formed in the early stages, long before legislation comes before parliament, and these committees shadow particular government ministries. They would be established not merely to look at legislation drafted in the cabinet, but to be involved in the entire functioning of the ministries concerned. This would include the appointment of high civil service officials, input into the drafting of legislation, and into the general conception of the ministries' roles. In other words, alongside the British-inherited system of cabinet responsibility, we would try to ensure that there is responsibility to parliament, in the first place through these standing committees. Once legislation is prepared it would be placed before these standing committees, which would meet in open session. In the first days of the new parliament, the open session rule was adopted unanimously as a matter of urgency by the Rules committee and is already in operation. TAKING OFFICE BUT NOT POWER It has often been said in recent times that the ANC takes office but not power. This phrase, seen as applicable even if we were not in a GNU situation, refers to the fact that the democratic forces face constraints not only within the GNU itself. We inherit a hostile civil service, including a possibly disloyal security force. Many centers of power (in the economy, media, health sector, educational establishment, etc.) crucial to democratization and transformation, presently are antagonistic to our aims. Therefore, it is clear that the RDP cannot succeed without the power of the people organized in a number of formations. If this is correct, then the quality and strength of popular organization becomes of crucial importance. The electoral success of the ANC may provide a deceptive view of ANC capacity, for that was organization directed towards a single goal, overriding every other interest that may normally have been of primary concern. Before the elections many of the regions of the ANC were in crisis. The South African Communist Party (SACP) was also organizationally weak, despite its popularity and its relatively rapid recruitment of members. COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) was also experiencing new difficulties consequent on large-scale retrenchments. The forces that comprise the broader mass democratic movement (MDM), or the liberation movement as a whole, were in many respects in disarray. Many sectors remain unorganized and in others organization has collapsed. The education sector, previously a mainstay of the democratic movement, has been seriously weakened at a student level and operates in a relatively uncoordinated fashion at the level of teachers. The civics have become very weak, with a disjuncture developing between the relatively new national and regional civic structures on the one hand, and the average civic on the ground with its street and yard committees. Organization on the issue of land is very weak and ANC regions where rural areas are predominant tend to be particularly weak. Many of these are located in the former bantustans and this presents special organizational difficulties. The broader questions of the relationship between the ANC and other organizations of the broad liberation movement and the ANC as government have not been adequately canvassed. Nor has the relationship between the cabinet and the parliamentary caucus and both of their relationships to the constitutional structures of the ANC. Resolution of these problems is made more difficult by deployment of almost every member of the ANC National Executive Committee to parliament, and many of these to cabinet, deputy ministries or civil service positions. Insofar as duties of government or parliament or constitution-making demand more time than many would have envisaged, it is not clear who will direct the process of rebuilding the ANC's internal structures. Significantly, the Secretary General of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, has been elected as chairperson of the Constitution Making Body -- a position that is likely to demand a great deal of time. Without further elaboration, there is no doubt that the ANC has to confront serious organizational issues if it is not to die. Those who see the importance of mass empowerment and not merely a situation where the masses are the recipients of government largesse will have to put their heads together to remedy this situation. The SACP faces a different set of problems. At an organizational level it has not yet found a methodology or form for absorbing its 60,000 members. It has not found a method of political education or organization to make their membership meaningful. Members continue to join, yet the organization has a crisis on its hands. Whereas the ANC inherited some of the United Democratic Front (UDF) structures and drew on the skills of many leading Communist Party members as well as much wealth to develop its organizational power, the SACP has been in debt for most of its unbanning and faces severe financial problems and a related shortage of full-time workers. At the same time there has been a tendency to rely on historical popularity, the popularity of its overall image as militant, uncompromising, and truly for the poor. COSATU, despite its having to replace a large body of leaders who have been elected to parliament, is probably organizationally better rooted than its two partners in the Tripartite Alliance and thus better able to recover from its present difficulties. NO NEAT CATEGORIES The South Africa transition process cannot be neatly parcelled within categories like revolutionary and reformist. It has aspects that represent gradualism and continuity, while it simultaneously has immensely revolutionary characteristics. The coexistence of these features or potentialities gives rise to contradictions, especially within the GNU. Obviously the tendency of the reactionary forces is to accept the process, but within an interpretation that emphasizes continuity of what exists, including some degree of "inevitability" of the gap between rich and poor. The forces of liberation are not speaking with one voice and there are tendencies towards revolutionary interpretations and there are those counselling courses that could blunt such an outcome. The significance of the RDP, what makes it revolutionary, especially given South Africa's history, is that it pledges not merely that a new government will make the masses beneficiaries of a process of transformation. What is revolutionary is that the conception of the RDP envisages success as only possible through the central role of the masses. It is possible that the current widespread support for the RDP amongst all sectors, many of which were previously hostile, while basically positive, could also be based on a concept of delivery that is less democratic and people- driven than that conceived in the RDP itself. The RDP sees the people as essential, as those who need redress from oppression but also as agents in achieving this redress. An alternative conception would see the masses as having expectations that must be respected but "managed." While the RDP recognizes that all expectations cannot be met immediately, the provision of basic necessities are considered legitimate expectations that must be met. The choice lies over the pace and combination of forces needed to realize them. Thus, a difficult period lies ahead for South Africa's democratic forces. The Tripartite Alliance of the ANC, SACP and COSATU claims -- in its statements -- to recognize that reliance cannot be placed on the constitutional structures of government alone. On the other hand, adequate steps have not yet been taken to transform power relations to a much broader front by the deployment of forces in the MDM under the leadership of the ANC. In this coming period, the ability to bolster the organizational mechanisms and to reinforce the leadership bodies of the ANC and the MDM may well determine the pace and extent to which the Reconstruction and Development Program can be implemented.