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Volume 11, No. 28, 8 August 2012

In this Issue:


Red Alert

The Post-Liberation Phase in Southern Africa: Problems and Prospects

By Jenny Schreiner, member of the 13th Congress Central Committee

Below we publish excerpts from a speech delivered by Dr B.E. Nzimande, MP Minister of Higher Education and Training, South Africa at a SAPES Dialogue Forum, 3 August 2012

 A post-apartheid Southern Africa

My lecture topic refers to the post-liberation phase, so it would be justifiable to ask why I begin in this way with the impact of colonialism. The reason is that I don’t think that it is quite correct to refer to the period that we are in as a ‘post-liberation’ phase. We are clearly in a post-colonial phase of our history, having won our right to rule our own countries. However, the process of taking over government has been only a partial victory over the forces which previously oppressed us for most African people. So I have tried to approach this lecture with the notion that we are still fighting the legacy of colonialism in many ways; a legacy that is not only just a past, but is reproduced in many ways today.

I don’t want to be understood simplistically - the values and ideas introduced by colonialism have been internalised and we ourselves continue to be influenced to a greater or lesser extent by ideas, especially neo-liberal ideas, emanating from imperialist countries. These ideas are disseminated by the international or local mass media, by school or university textbooks, by much of the literature and art that we consume, by movies produced in Hollywood or by the economists in the World Bank, the IMF or privately owned and commercially driven corporations who influence our economic and social policies through conditions they impose for giving us loans or investing in our countries. These ideas continue to dominate the way we manage our economies, our educational systems, our health care and social security systems and the ways we relate to our former colonisers, to other countries and to each other within our continent. All this is as much a part of neo-colonialism as the continued direct domination and exploitation of our economies.

Indeed SAPES embarked on some pioneering studies in the 1980s in analysing the impact of structural adjustment programmes in the region. Unfortunately because of the fact that the means of the distribution of information and ideas still remained with the established capitalist classes, often backed by imperialist companies, these ideas and information was never as widely shared with the region, or even the world, as it should have been. Because of apartheid South Africa this literature also never found its way into the South African market. It is my considered view that a lot of the work done by SAPES needs to be re-printed, restudied as those analyses carry important insights on some of the key challenges facing our region.

By emphasising the way colonialism ruthlessly destroyed our pre-colonial societies, I am not proposing a return to some romantic version of the pre-colonial past. And nor am I advocating a narrow African nationalism which rejects anything that is not African in origin. I am a Marxist and thus an internationalist, and I am a believer in the improvement of human life through economic development and the social, cultural and political development of human society. I certainly don’t reject all foreign ideas, whether they come from Europe, Asia, North or South America. Much of the knowledge – in both the natural and the social sciences – that comes to us from abroad is admirable and can help us. We should embrace it and develop it. But we must consciously and systematically reject ideas that are rooted in the racist ideologies of colonialism, including those notions embedded in Afro-pessimism, which is after all another form of racism. For example, we should reject the idea that we should follow the same developmental growth path as this or that country (whether it be Britain, Brazil or South Korea) as if we are unable to develop policies based on our own needs and the conditions of our own countries. While we must learn from all people and nations, we must have the confidence to analyse our needs and chart our own path.

The legacy of colonialism is deeply systemic and requires comprehensive transformation

Therefore my starting point and main proposition is that the values and goals of the liberation struggle still remain as relevant in Southern Africa today – the struggle for building new nations, economic and social emancipation, and the struggle for sovereignty and democracy. It is however a relevance that must continue to be earned in the here and now, and not only be claimed and justified as part of a heroic past!

Settler colonialism or colonialism of a special type was a part type of capitalist rule – based on the forcible removal of Africans from the land to become cheap labour in the mines, white agricultural farms and the small manufacturing sector. It was a colonialism aimed at reproducing cheap labour for the colonial settler regimes. Whilst we should not lose sight of the importance of the national question in the national liberation struggle, at the same time the national question cannot be properly grasped outside of the class foundations and relations in colonial societies. Hence the continued relevance of economic emancipation in the current struggles towards the completion of our national liberation struggles.

So, the primary item on the agenda in the post-colonial phase of our struggle must be to complete our struggle for liberation by going beyond our political achievements. Above all we must develop strong, independent economies; eradicate mass unemployment; ensure significantly greater social equality; secure our democracy through strengthening our democratic institutions; build national unity; and overcome inequities based on race, gender, disability and other factors. We must ensure free, quality education and health-care, and provide for the housing, sanitation and other basic needs of our people and ensure their safety and security. All these things are necessary so that we can provide a decent standard of living to all our people.

I believe that the most fundamental of our challenges is the economic one because so many of our other imperatives depend on having a thriving, productive and equitable economy.  But our economic growth and economic modernisation should be on our own terms and its main aim to should be to benefit our citizens.

Colonialism shaped African economies to be sources of raw material for the industries of the colonising countries and markets for their goods and services. Major transport corridors were largely built for the purpose of taking raw materials to the ports and bringing in imported goods for sale to local markets. These markets were never developed to their full potential because this would have meant improving the lives of Africans – both materially and educationally – and thus empowering them to throw off the chains of colonialism. The export of raw materials and import of manufactured goods – not the rise in people’s living standards – was the main imperative behind the design of our economies.

In the post-independence period this has continued to a very large extent – partly though inertia, partly through a lack of capital to develop infrastructure or industry, partly through the lack of an educated and skilled workforce and partly through a lack of clear policies based on a determined political will. In many cases, it seems that political will has been lacking to challenge imperial interests – either through an absence of courage or because a local comprador class with political influence has interests which coincide with imperial, transnational capital rather than with those of the local population.

Whatever economic development was attained in the colonial period, it was built on the foundations the national oppression of the majority. Whatever the advances and gains made after independence – and indeed there are many –they have not fundamentally touched the economic growth path and trajectories of settler colonialism or colonialism of a special type. In many instances, even programmes of affirmative action, indigenisation or black economic empowerment, have tended to reproduce a highly dependent, if not compradorial, economic elite that is unable to play an independent role in the development of our economies.

The structural adjustment programmes, many characterised by a collusion between a domestic comprador element with the post-colonial state and imperialist capital contributed significantly in frustrating many promising national liberation struggles from especially fulfilling their mandate of social emancipation of the majority of the people.

The crisis of capitalism and the continued relevance of the values of the national liberation struggle

If we approach the issue in this way, I think that the first thing to become apparent is that it is not possible to leave our national or regional development to the market alone – or even mainly to the market. Markets generally favoure the status quo even if they can sometimes make it more efficient. Markets benefit those who have resources those who have resources to invest or to purchase in the market. Unlike political democracy whose dictum is “one person, one vote” the democracy operates by the dictum, “one rand, one vote”, one dollar, one vote’ and so on. Of course this characterisation is a bit simplistically and free-market capitalism can usually boast of examples of poor people who ‘made it’ and became wealthy. But the fact remains that if we want to fundamentally change our systems, to remove the structural flaws in them, it is necessary for the state to intervene. The idea of a lean state that remains on the sidelines of the economy – the kind of state that is promoted by the neo-liberal ideology that is still dominant in key international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF – cannot benefit the poor or even the middle classes in developing countries like our own.

Our states must be bold enough to intervene in the economy wherever necessary to ensure that structural reforms are carried out, new industries established, existing industries supported, natural resources locally beneficiated and appropriate infrastructure built. A developmental state is one that is focussed on the achievement of economic and social development that is both economically and environmentally sustainable. Although there is room for a private sector and a market – both China and Cuba, for example, have found that it is necessary to allow a role for markets – the state must play the central role in determining the direction of the economy, regulating markets, intervening wherever necessary to ensure that the economy serves the majority of the people by creating enough jobs, providing a social wage and producing the goods and services that are necessary. Only if the state takes this leading role can the economy be directing to tackling particular goals that have been decided.

Liberalism, including its neo-liberal variety, is highly suspicious of the state, especially a developmental state or any state that is an active participant in the economy. To liberals, the state is antithetical to democracy. This is because it is seen to limit the rights of individuals – especially those individuals with capital – because, as I have argued, free markets favour those who are already rich and who benefit from the status quo. But those of us who want to fundamentally restructure our societies for the benefit of the majority, especially of the working class and the poor, markets cannot be allowed to run rampant and determine the direction of our development. Markets must be an instrument that is subjugated to the will of the people as expressed by a democratic state. This is not anti-democratic, but is precisely to ensure that powerful minorities do not use democracy to pursue their own selfish interests at the expense of the people as a whole.  

But all this is not new. Many of these arguments were made by SAPES scholars and researchers way back in the 1980s about the impact of structural adjustment programmes on the SADC economies. But what is different today is that this neo-liberal fundamentalism, with the current global capitalist crisis, is in deep trouble. The current global capitalist crisis does not only represent an economic crisis, but it is also an ideological crisis – the crisis of the idea of the market as the solution to the problems facing humanity.

This is unlike after the capitalist crisis of the early 1970s, which capitalism could survive and grow out of, principally through the emergence of neo-liberal policies characterised by three distinct and yet closely interrelated strategies. The first was the systematic dismantling of the welfare state in Europe and other advanced capitalist countries as a way of countering the declining profitability of the global capitalist system. The state and many of its functions became privatised and became sites of new capital accumulation and profitability.

The second key strategy was that of dealing with the crisis through the intensive exploitation of the developing world, through amongst others, the imposition of severe structural adjustment programmes, thus able to sustain capitalism and high levels of consumption in advanced capitalist countries.

The third strategy, closely linked to the above two, was the increasing financialisation of capitalism in advanced capitalist countries, with the increasing shifting of manufacturing and other productive capacity to the cheaper parts of the (developing) world - with cheap labour and often repressive regimes - as part of intensified accumulation and profit making for many of the Western capitalist corporations.

I would argue that neo-liberalism managed to take capitalism to higher levels of profitability, but this was increasingly accumulation of a special type where there was increasing financial speculation as a source of profitability with declining productive capacity in the advanced capitalist countries.

Perhaps one explanation for the stubborness of the current global capitalist crisis that was set off by the sub-prime crisis in the US in 2008 is that there is not enough scope or opportunities now for capitalism to offload this crisis onto the developing world as was the case in the post-1973 period – that is, not much of a welfare state is left for private stripping nor are new rounds of structural adjustment programmes possible.

Of course there is now also a new phenomenon, that it is precisely in some of the countries into which the manufacturing capacity of capitalism was relocated from the 1980s, that there is now more robust development that has managed to withstand the current colds of the current global capitalist crisis; places like China, India and Brazil. Ironically it is these countries that are now emerging as potential new economic powers, thus for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, providing a potential for countervailing economic forces in the world economy. These new powers are also too strong to be manipulated like the weaker ones of the earlier period in the developing world.

I would like to argue that this new situation presents new opportunities and avenues for alternative forms of development that could provide new hope and impetus for developing countries to realise some significant development. In this context and environment there is space for at least the emergence of new thinking, refashioning of the ideas and ideals of the national liberation movement and exploration of alternative and more beneficial forms of development for our region and the continent. The ideological authority of neo-liberalism has definitely been severely dented with the current global capitalist crisis. Exploration of new progesssive ideas would in themselves deepen the ideological crisis of neo-liberalism and market economics!

The crisis of neo-liberalism today re-affirms the relevance of the values of the national liberation movement that it is only a combined action of the state and the people that can change our conditions for the better. What I am arguing emphatically is that developing economies like our own must have a clear direction given by the organised instrument of the population – its elected government – in order to break the chains of economic dependency, stagnation and deeply entrenched social inequalities.