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Part 1: Preliminary Remarks – the silence on democratic rights
In the recent past there has been a growing interest in the impact of the government’s macroeconomic strategy, the Growth, Employment and Redistribution -popularly known as ‘Gear’ – on human rights in South Africa. In particular, the Poverty Hearing sponsored by the South African Coalition have drawn attention to the fact that many of the rights enshrined in section and 29 of the South African constitution are still a long way from being realised. Similarly, Nadel itself has contributed to this focus and has devoted an issue of its journal to a review of these so-called socio-economic or second generation rights.
What has been particular striking about these discussions is the absence of any discussion on what has been the impact of Gear on the so-called “first generation rights”, which include “civil, personal and political rights and fair procedure or due process… [and] … association, religion, language and culture”. On this score not only has Gear been presumed innocent, but it has – by default – been proved innocent. The format and themes of this conference are indeed testimony to this fact: the underlying assumption of the conference is that when it comes to assessing Gear and its impact on human rights, then human rights equals socio-economic rights.
There are a number of reasons that – jointly and separately – account for why the relationship between Gear and so-called first generation rights has been passed by unnoticed. Firstly, the legacy of poverty and the rise in the levels of poverty are just too visible to ignore. Gear has failed to deliver on its own promise about employment creation, and indeed unemployment in on the increase. After close to five years in power the promise of houses, water, sanitation, health care free and compulsory education is a distant and increasingly fading dream. These are, however, the very promises that the South African constitution enshrined in the on these constitutional rights, its glaring failure drew, and continues to draw attention to the impact of Gear on these aspects of human rights in South Africa.
Secondly, first generation rights appear to be fulfilled. After all, compared to the barbarism of apartheid, the present democratic freedoms appear to be the ultimate in democratic rights.
Furthermore, the frequent calls for submissions by the “public” to the law-making process takes South Africa onto a higher level compared to many other countries. For this reason, we frequently hear remarks that the South African constitution is one of the most democratic in the world, if not the most democratic.
Thirdly, the omission of the impact of Gear on so-called first generation rights in the discussion on human rights is a reflection of a paradigm shift within the democratic movement. The dominant ideological paradigm – and it happens to be the one that also underpins Gear itself – tells us that the economic processes that are supposed to bring economic growth and prosperity about are guided or governed by impersonal forces. We are told that the efficiency of these economic process and the impersonal forces that govern them are and will be undermined by human intervention, be it by government or by organised social groups. We are presented with a one-way markets produce democratic freedoms, but the democratic processes of society must not interfere with the markets. Instinctively and subconsciously we shy away from a critique of the impact of Gear-typed macroeconomic strategies on first generation rights because we reproduce the assumptions of the dominant paradigm about free markets and freedom.
There was of course a time when many social and political activists did not unconsciously reproduce such assumptions. The capitalist free market ideology was seen as being incompatible with democracy or first generation rights. Dullar Omar argued this so eloquently that we have to quote him at length:
“The irony that these antagonists of Social and Economic Rights are in reality the first the first to jettison and render meaningless the First Generation Rights for the masses of South Africa’s people.
On the hand it is the champions of Social and Economic rights who are the most consistent fighters for First Generation rights to be made a reality for all South Africans and not just a few or the rich.
This is not just South African phenomenon. Every country and people who have suffered from the beverages of colonialism and imperialist domination and today still suffer under imperialist domination bear testimony to the fact that some of the most outrageous violation of First Generation Human Rights in Africa, Asia, South and Central America and the Middle East have been committed by opponents of social and economic transformation.”
This was however during the twilight of the heroic age of our struggle. Next year, in 1999, we will observe 20 years of the inauguration of neoliberalism by Britain’s Margaret Thatcher.
It has been 20 years of the most spectacular assault on all popular and egalitarian philosophies. So, even as we oppose and struggle against neoliberalism, we sometimes unconsciously reproduce and struggle against neoliberalism, we sometimes unconsciously reproduce its assumptions.
Fourthly, what has also allowed the relationship between Gear and first generation rights to go unnoticed is the evolution of the South African constitutional debate itself Notwithstanding Dullar’s criticism of the antagonists of second generation rights, the Bill of Rights debate was driven by the controversy over second generation rights. First generation rights were agreed to by both protagonists in the debate, and so the spotlight fell on second (and third) generation rights. The term of the constitution debate during the negotiations days still cast their shadow over the present debate over Gear and human rights.
Dullar Omar has argued above that those who oppose second generation rights invariably tend to jettison first generation rights. It is time to extend this argument into the present and ask ourselves: can those who fail so systematically to deliver on socio-economic rights continue to deliver on first generation rights?
With the permission of this conference I propose to focus on the impact on Gear on human rights as first generation rights. At the end of the paper I will return to Gear and second generation rights, but in an equal but opposite direction I will do that from the vantage point of Gear’s impact on first generation rights.
Part 2: The impact of Gear on democracy in South Africa
In order to appreciate the impact on Gear on democracy or generation rights it is necessary to briefly explore Gear as a strategy underpinned by neoliberalism and as a class project of the dominant monopoly capitalist groups in South Africa.
Let us begin by looking at what neoliberalism is, and at the sources of the paradigm as itself. We will then proceed to look at the relationship between neoliberalism and democracy.
Neoliberalism and its sources
Neoliberalism as a social, economic and political programme emerged as part of international finance capital’s attempt to resolve the international capitalist crisis which first became evident in the mid- to late 1960s, and has since become endemic to the international capitalist economy. There are two aspects of the crisis, among others, that are crucial to understanding the neoliberal programme of international finance capital.
The first aspect of this crisis is that by the mid-1960s give or take a few years depending on the country, the steadily rising organic composition of capital, ie., the rising proportion of the means of production that is in the form of machinery in the advanced imperialist countries began to exert a downward pressure on the general rate of profit. Up until the mid-1960s, the economies of Europe and Japan had large reserves of (relatively) cheap labour, which meant that the fall in the rate of profit could be compensated for by relative cheapness of labour-power. The rate of profit and of accumulation generally moved faster than the rate increase of wages. By the mid-1960s this reserve army of labour power exhausted, and the power of the rate union had become a significant force in determining the general level of wages. This meant that it become increasingly difficult for capital to compensate for the fall in the rate of profit by lowering of the value of labour power. This created the crisis of profitability which is still with us today.
The second aspect of this crisis was a unity of the classical crisis of overproduction of consumer goods, on the one hand, and on the other , what is generally referred to as ‘over-accumulation’, the overproduction of capital goods (both in the concrete form of a surplus of the means of production, or technology, as well as in its abstract form of money capital.) In other words, the evaluation of capitalism reached a stage at which there were large amounts of capital that could no longer find productive areas of investment – with the consequent explosion of financial speculation and reckless lending by the institutions of finance capital: the banks, the hedge funds and the investment houses.
These two fundamental features of the capitalist crisis lie at the heart of the essential character of the social, political and economic programme of neoliberalism. Most of these essential characteristics are well known.
The first aspect of the crisis necessitated an attack on the level of wages as well on the total wages bill. Firstly, the general conditions of the labour market had to be transformed. Since, however, the trade unions had become, over and above the general conditions of the labour market, a key factor in the determination of the level of wages, they too had to come under attack. They indeed did come under attack.
The influence of the trade unions on the level of wages, however, was only one side of the problem. The distribution – between labour and capital – of the total surplus value produced by society was, in addition to the activities of the trade unions on the shopfloor, also influenced by the state. Through taxes on profits the state was able to add portion of the surplus that labour had already been able to win on the shopfloor; this being especially the case when the state adopted a progressive tax structure and where it the taxes for increased social welfare programmes – education, unemployment insurance, health and so on. The state therefore acted as an upward pressure on the social wage bill. This role of the state therefore also had to come under attach capital: it did come to attack.
So it came to pass that since the ascendancy of neoliberalism, the social benefits of the working class have come under relentless assault.
The state was also important in determining the general conditions of the labour market. The formal expression of these conditions of the labour market, i.e. the laws regulating labour markets, had been formulated in a period of capitalist growth and low levels of unemployment. These laws also reflected a balance of class forces in which the working class was strong. The law made it difficult for capital to change the conditions of employment -working hours, hiring procedures, benefits and so on -in a manner that would lower the total wage bill and increase the rate of profit. They too had to come under attack. This attach is the source of the calls for a “flexible labour market”, for deregulation and so on.
The balance of class forces that emerged in Europe at the end of the war was expressed, in many though not all countries, in the entry of social democratic parties into government. The social democratic parties had by then become bourgeois parties with an electoral base that remained working class. As bearers of the social welfarism that international finance capital had come to identify with a rising social wage bill, the social democratic parties also came under attack. In a number of important countries, they were replaced by wing parties committed to ending the period of social welfarism.
The second aspect of the crisis of international capitalism – what we have referred to as a crisis of ‘over-accumulation’ – necessitated an attack on another aspect of the role of the state up to that period: that of the state as producer and as owner of the means of production. The accumulation of capital, that is its continual reinvestment with the sole aim of making more money, is, as Marx once remarked, the Moses of the prophets. Without accumulation, capitalism dies. A crisis of ‘over-accumulation’ – that is capital without profitable spheres of investment – goes to the heart of capitalism as a social system. Up to then certain profitable or potentially profitable spheres of investment were owned or controlled by the state. The call for privatisation went out as capital sought to capture these areas of investment. On the other hand, capital pressed for the opening up of the world as an unregulated sphere of investment. The Uruguay Round of the GATT become the instrument to transform the world into a single global market for the surplus goods of the large Transnational Corporation.
At another level, a whole array of institutions, laws, rules and regulations that stood in the way of opening up the world, its individual countries and its industries to the excess capital that up to then had no profitable areas of investment came under attack. controls had to go, financial markets had to be deregulated, and the fiscal policies of a whole host of countries had to transformed to conform to this “new global economic order”. The attempt at a Multilateral Agreement on Investment has as its aim the codification of unrestricted access of capital.
Neoliberalism and class struggles
The neoliberal order and its prescription did not go unchallenged. Paris 1968 prefigured a new cycle of struggle that would follow attempts to impose the new economic orthodoxy. The social consensus on which the postwar boom had been built was broken by a series of struggles throughout the 1970a and into the 1980s. In the north, the defeat of the air controllers’ strike in the United States in 1982 and the defeat of the British miners in 1985 were landmarks in the forward march and victory of neoliberalism. In the south, the Latin American debt crisis of 1982 ushered the era of Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes, and with it neoliberal and progressive forces were locked in mortal combat in the south. The defeats of the progressive forces notwithstanding in the north, as we moved towards the mid-1980s the victory of neoliberalism was not assure. In South Africa revolution appeared to be around the corner, the 1980s had begun with loss of Iran for imperialism, and in Latin America the Sandinistas held on to power in the 1994 elections, and the struggle in EI Salvador appeared on the verge of victory.
Throughout this entire period, neoliberalism’s shallow democratic credentials were exposed for all to see. In the north, state violence showed its ugly face in the British miners’ strike in 1985, and in the south the chief crusaders of the neoliberal order, Reagan and Thatcher, supported dictators, hits quads and the subversion of democracy in general.
The collapse of Stalinist socialism in the countries of Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, and its collapse in the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, was a signal for the victory of neoliberalism. From then on, country after country in both north and south, and popular movement fell before the victorious forces of neoliberalism. As large slice of humanity was subjected of ESAPs and neoliberal prescriptions were adopted in most countries of the world. In celebration of this victory, the US stock markets celebrated the longest bull run, or gains in its value, in its entire history; and a US bureaucrat, Francis Fukuyama, announced the end of history and its struggles.
Neoliberalism and democracy
Throughout its short history, the neoliberal paradigm portrayed itself as a champion of democracy. Reagan in particular presented himself as a crusader against communism and “totalitarianism”, and as a fighter for democracy. The imperatives of the class struggle and opposition to neoliberalism continually exposed this as a lie. For many in the north and south, the attacks on the workers’ movements and on liberation movements tore the democratic mask that neoliberalism tried to wear.
The need to lower wages, to make labour markets more “flexible’, the need to cut state expenditure on social services and to privatise essential services provided by the state to the people, all these led to social conflict which could only be won – by neoliberalism – by institutions of policy-making had to be insulated against possible pressure from the dominated classes. There was as a result the rise of institutions which were made “independent” from the state and the government of the day. In particular, emphases were laid on the independence of those institutions which were concerned with economic policy making.
Among the institutions which a focus of attention was the Central Banks and the Departments of Finance. On the other hand, through the mechanism of ESAPs decision making on important matters like the direction of economic policy was transfered to internation financial institutions, in particular the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. As Hippler writes, “in these poorer countries, the privatisation and internationalisation of so many state functions leave just an empty hull of a state, … What the state is left with in so many Third World countries are … the instruments of repression”.
With this “empty hull of a state”, neoliberalism can afford to be the ‘champion of democracy’. Hippler once again: “A democratisation of these structure is then purely a matter of form, with no risks involved. Having taken away their most important functions, the North [read: neoliberalism] then ‘democratises’ the empty hull that remains. Elections can be organised, possibly even ones that are free and fair. But they are largely irrelevant since the elected representatives no longer have the power to organise and structure their own country’s policies.
Under the cover of the democratisation of the now empty state, neoliberalism -and it must be emphasised that this “democratisation of disempowerrnent” as Claude Ake calls it, also takes place in the North itself as be seen from the power of the Chairman of US Federal Reserve Bank – has continued its attack on the democratic spaces that are or had been occupied by the popular classes. The attack on the trade unions continues, labour markets continue to be deregulated, nongovernmental organisation continue to be subjected to the ‘logic of the market’, civic organisations are weakened and all resistance to neoliberalism is portrayed as being against democracy, by which is meant the free market. The conspiracy of the Australian government and the maritime bosses against the Whaffies, or maritime union, during the recent maritime strike in Australia shows that even with its victory neoliberalism must continue to undermine democratic popular organisation.
Gear as a project of local and international Monopoly Capital
The fact that Gear is an instance of neoliberalism has been argued and established by a number of writers in South Africa. All its main features are a carbon-copy of neoliberal prescriptions and ESAPs. Its main elements are.
• a ” tight fiscal stance”
• Private sector led or “profit led growth”
• Export led growth or “outward orientation”
• Emphasis on “international competitiveness”
• Deregulation of labour markets, or “labour market flexibility” or “regulated flexibility”
• Deregulation or liberalisation of financial markets and abolishing of exchange control. To this is added the objective of devaluation of the currency.
• Tight monetary policy and emphasis on fighting inflation
• Accelerated tariff reduction – integration into the global economy on the terms set by the WTO\IMF\B ANK.
• Emphasis on creating, at all levels, a favourable climate for “investors”, i.e., capital and profit making.
This is the standard menu of neoliberalism and ESAPs. Which social forces in South stand to gain from this kind of menu?
Gear and Monopoly Capital
As elsewhere, it is South Africa’s large financial institutions, and the large industrial conglomerates of which they form a central part, one the one hand, and international financial capital, on the other, who stand to gain from the imposition of the neoliberal project in South Africa.
From its inception South Africa capitalism has had strong monopoly tendencies – and at present about 80% of the JSE7s market capitalisation is owned by 5 conglomerates. The large reserve of capital – a product of the capitalist crisis in the 1970s and 80s – demanded outlets which would only be satisfied (from capital’s point of view) by the access to the world’s financial markets. These global ambitions were also reinforced by the small size of South Africa’s internal market.
Monopoly capital, however, also had deep roots in South Africa, in both a figurative and literal sense. For a group like Anglo-american for example, its mining interests had constituted a solid local base for its global operations. Thus, in the context of fierce global competition local monopoly capital also has to raise its rate of exploitation in SA, its profits. Its therefore had to transform the local relations of social classes.
The novelty of Gear for local monopoly capital and its foreign counterparts is that it integrates South Africa into the world markets on terms acceptable to financial capital, while at the same time satisfying the needs of local monopoly capital for global expansion. The entire demutualisation of Old Mutual and Sanlam is the most recent example of how the Gear project satisfies these global ambitions.
Democratic credentials of local monopoly capital
South Africa’s large have spent a lot of time and money to try and portray themselves champions of democracy even under apartheid. Like their counterparts in other of the world, they have would like to convince the public that democracy and free markets are in inextricable linked. Even a cursory look at history, however, tells a different story.
South African monopoly capital developed on the basis of a ruthless process of accumulation based on the violent use of the state apparatus on the national plane. This ruling class has not hesitated to defend, by means of war and invasion, these interests in the Southern Africa region.
As a result of the need to defend its interests, throughout its history the South African ruling class the centralisation of economic power has always been paralleled by the centralisation of political power. This centralisation of political power has expressed itself in a number of ways: a strong central state; a de facto single party democracy, albeit for “whites only” up to 1994; strong social, economic and political connections between the ruling class and the ruling party on the one hand, and strong social, economic and political connections between the ruling class and the state bureaucracy, on the other.
The South African ruling class ‘ hostility to democratic organisation is well known. In its submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Cosatu8 chronicled a history of repression of trade unions and other mass organisations, of racism and discrimination, of collaboration with the security forces of apartheid, of repression on the mines by the security forces of the corporations themselves. This is a ruling class that not only enjoyed the benefits of apartheid, but one that was active in the repression of the democratic movement.
When the ANC embraced the Gear as its policy, when it embraced neoliberalism, it at the same time embraced the undemocratic culture of South Africa’s traditional ruling classes. In order to make neoliberalism in South Africa work, the ANC had to undertake its own version of the democratisation of disempowerment. What democracy was given with one hand was at the same time rendered worthless by a series of actions that, like in other parts of the Third World, are increasingly making parliament and other elected bodies empty shells with no real ability to shape the country’s destiny.
The Democratisation of Disempowerment in South Africa
South Africa’s transition to formal democracy has been hailed as a “miracle’. It was miracle, so we are told, because it was a “peaceful transition “. This view is to course nothing but a myth, however, which was important. and continues to be important, in the larger neoliberal project of reversing the democratic gains of the South Africa struggle. In fact, in the last years of apartheid, the South African struggle was subjected to processes and forces similar to those that produced a subversion of democratic struggles in the third world. These forces and processes have continued to act produce the current policies which undermine first generation rights in South Africa today.
A bloody and disempowering transition
The South African transition followed the classic pattern of “low intensity warfare”. According to Hippler, the goal of such warfare is to ensure that the
“degree of mobilisation and the level of political participation of the poorer sectors of the population has to be reduced and political behaviour has to be limited to the act of voting… the smaller the degree of social mobilisation, the more secure they [the ruling class] can feel.”
See Cosatu’s press statement on TRC hearings on Business and Apartheid, 10 November 1997.
In South Africa the demobilisation of the working class and other dominated classes took the form of large scale state violence against the black township, especially in Gauteng. In other parts of the country we also saw the emergence of so-called “taxi violence”. We will recall that whenever there was a deadlock in the negotiations process, such violence would flare up or intensify.
In what was a twist of irony, political parties who had spent their entire lives opposing democracy were thus able to shape, in fundamental ways, the nature of the h r e democracy in South Africa. The Constitutional Principles (Schedule 4 of Act 200, 1993) which were incorporated into the Interim Constitution ensured that the Constitutional Assembly that met to draft the final constitution would undertake its work only with the blessing of the parties of the old order.
It was however on the ANC itself that the tactics of low intensity warfare were most successful. The weakening of the working class and other popular forces created the conditions under which the leadership of the democratic movement could delink from its mass base. Even before the 1994 election, the ANC was already part of secret deals with the international financial institutions, in particular the International Monetary Fund, which set it on the way to Gear. The culture of undermining democracy was already being sown in the transition. On the other hand, the weakening of the popular classes was to ensure that when neoliberal policies were introduced the level of social mobilisation would be low enough to undermine any serious resistance.
The privatisation of economic policy making
The South African constitution is striking because of the extent to which it prescribes the processes of economic policy making. There are a number of levels at which the constitution prescribes the economic policy formulation process.
Firstly, the constitution prescribes the independence of the Central Bank. In line with neoliberal orthodoxy, the constitution defines the primary mandate of the Central Bank as being ‘to protect the value of the currency”. With this section of the constitution an important instrument of economic policy implementation is insulated against pressure from the electorate or its representatives. Moreover, this body is also given policy making functions. As a result of this, it has come to pass that the Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, is heard rather pitifully appealing to the Bank for a more lenient interest rate policy.
Secondly, this determination of economic policy by unelected bodies is taken a step further through the establishment of the Financial and Fiscal Commission in the Constitution. This commission, whose members “must have appropriate expertise”, is also independent from the government of the day and has wide ranging functions covering the entire spectrum of government policy on fiscal and financial matters in general, and at all levels of government.
Thirdly, a default by the South African state on its debt obligations to the financiers would be both illegal and unconstitutional. Chapter 13 of the constitution contains a number of provisions which ensure ‘fiscal discipline’ at the various levels of government, and which ensure that in their responses to popular pressure the lower organs of state would violate ‘fiscal discipline7. To buttress the constitution, the present government has passed legislation which now make it illegal for provinces and local government to run deficits. Debt serving and payment has been made a direct charge on the National Revenue Fund, and in terms of guidelines agreed to by the Budget Council debt payment has first claim on government revenues.
The insulation of economic policy making from any pressure from the popular classes and their organisations has of course not been restricted to the constitution. An important instrument for removing economics policy making out of the public domain has been the parliamentary process itself. Although the South African parliament frequently calls for submissions to the law-making process, when it comes to policy making around financial matters, in particular the budget, mass organisations have no impact on the outcome of the process. The process is entirely dominated by the Department of Finance, and by its consultations with various representatives of the ruling class. For this reason, Cosatu decided to boycott any future budget process until and unless serious changes are made to the budget process.
The privatisation of economic policy making is a central tenet of the “democratisation of disempowerment”. The departments of Finance become almost completely insulated from popular pressure and themselves begin to act as transmission belts for the hegemony of international and local financial capital. As this process, “power within the state becomes concentrated in those agencies in closest touch with global economy – the offices of presidents and ministers, treasuries (Dept of Finance), central banks ” The population elects the parliament that in turn appoints or elects the Finance Ministers. In turn, the Finance Ministers turns around and exercises a dictatorship over the population – and expropriates them of their right to determine of influence economic policy.
The process of the adoption of Gear by the South African government clearly demonstrates the dictatorship of the Executive over the Legislature. Many Members of Parliament only heard about Gear when it was announced in the press; they most certainly were never involved in the discussion of the policy before its adoption by cabinet.
The disempowerment of the ANC members
The centralisation of power in the Executive – in particular in the Office of the President and the Deputy President – and the political expropriation of parliament by these offices, together with that of the Minister of Finance, is consistent with the traditions of South Africa’s monopoly capitalist classes. As I have remarked above, the concentration of political power. This is true not only of the concentration of power in certain parts of the state apparatuses, but it is equally true of the political parties of the ruling class.
The transformation of the ANC into s party of the ruling class has proceeded with an astonishing rapidity. One of its principal features of the ANC as a party of the ruling class has been the concentration of power within the ANC as an organisation. Gear also provides us with striking evidence of how far this process has gone. The ANC NEC, which is the highest decision making body between conferences, was only informed of the Gear long after the ANC government had publicly announced Gear as government policy.
This disempowerment of ANC member can also be seen in the increasing domination of the party by the government. ANC policy formulation is now largely undertaken by the government bureaucracy, and the ANC largely rubberstamps these policies. The last ANC conference in Mafikeng could not and did not have a meaningful discussion of economic policy, and by implication of all other policy because Gear acted as a predetermined framework for all debates.
The dictatorship of the office of the president over the party members is being taken a step further. Under the guise of ensuring that Provincial Premiers are ‘competent’ the ANC President will now appoint the Premiers, and will further ensure that Premiers are insulated from popular pressure. They will now be able to take ‘unpopular’ decision.
The decline of mobilisation of the masses
1999 is of course the year of election, and the ANC has begun preparations. Like many bourgeois parties the ANC has announced that two advertising agencies will run its communications campaign – Azaguys and Hunt Lascaris. The turn to advertising agencies is testimony not only to the fact that the ANC can no longer trust it mass base to shape and determine its election message, but it also bears testimony to the levels of demobilisation of the mass movement.
Civic organisations and student organisations are shells of their former selves. Street committees and other ‘organ of people’s power’ are dreams from a long distant past. ANC branches can hardly be relied upon to conduct a serious campaign and Women’s organisations are equally weak. Only the trade unions retain a measure of strength and mobilisation. Their support for the unions retain a measure of strength and mobilisation. Their support for the ANC in the corning elections notwithstanding, the unions must still confront their dilemma: how to campaign and vote for a policy – Gear that they spend the best the best part of their time opposing and denouncing?
If anything, this difficult position of the unions is likely to demobilise the membership and make the unions an unreliable ally to depend on. The problems of campaigning for elections notwithstanding, the ANC has no real interest in awakening the sleeping popular classes. In fact, the continuing demobilisation of the popular classes is an essential precondition for the implementation of neoliberal policies like Gear.
The collapse of NGOs
Another evidence of the demobilisation of the popular classes has been the large scale collapse of non-governmental organisations. It is particularly significant that it is those NGOs which work in the field of education and training that have faced the most difficulty. Within the progressive NGOs it was these there did most work on what used to be called ‘concientisation’, that is the raisin the political and social combativity of the popular classes.
Although in its early years the government professed its commitment to ‘building civil society’ it has done very little to commit resources to backup this commitment. Indeed, compared with the National Party’s contribution of R1,5billion to the IDT, the present government only promises less than half of this amount over two years.
Democracy at home and dictatorships abroad?
The depth of a country’s democratic culture can and should be judged by the extent to which this culture extends to its foreign policy. Foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy. How does South Africa fare on this score?
If we leave aside the speeches that are delivered to talkshops around the world, and if we examine the substance of South African foreign policy since 1994, we find a very close affinity to United State foreign policy positions, and a tendency to embrace dictatorships in the South emerge as the dominant tendencies. The most singular expressions of this tendency was the honour granted to former Indonesian President Surhato – the Honour of Goodhope, which is the highest to a visiting head of state – on the eve of him being forced out of power by the struggles of the messes in Indonesia and East Timor.
What is the relationship between this patently foreign policy orientation and Gear?
The large corporations who benefit from South African neoliberalism have investment interests in many parts of the world. Many of these interests, such as their control of diamond mines in Zaire, were established when the country was under apartheid rule, and in many cases were smoothed by the various dictatorships in whose countries they invested.
The most important element of Gear is its aim of integrating South Africa into the world economy on terms highly favourable to Multinational Corporations International competitiveness, export-led growth, free flow of capital across borders and lower wages is the sweet music the Cabinet choir sings to the gnomes of Brenthurst (as the Harry Oppenheimer residence is known).
Capital that is freely exported must not only find a place to go to but the place must be profitable. What better place to find competitive profit rates than the dictatorship of Asia, Africa and Latin America? And who can beat Mobutu and his political class when it comes to fleecing whole nations and satisfying the rapacious appetites of the diamond-hungry gnomes of Brenthurst? South Africa’s embrace of dictators is a natural and inevitable sequel to the adoption of GEAR by the ANC. Like so much in South Africa today, foreign policy in South Africa serves a single god: the global ambitions of South African multinationals.
The frequency with which the Deputy President visits the US is not the only index of how close the two government have become. The Department of Foreign Affairs now refers to its policy as that ‘creative engagement’, a rather transparent repackaging of Ronald Reagan’s constructive engagement’.
An obvious question that has been asked by many people is how is it possible to promote human rights at home, and yet consistently embrace dictators abroad? How does one explain South Africa’s refusal to support the struggle led by Nobel prize winner Suu Kyi against the dictatorship in Burman? The answer is that support for democratic struggles would undermine Gear as a project of neoliberal capital.
The poweful corporations whose interests are shaping South Africa foreign policy have made their millions trampling on human rights at home and abroad. The man who sits at the head of the table at Brenthurst, Harry Oppenheimer, made his millions in the country’s most oppressive and exploitative industry, the gold mines. To him and his hanger-on human rights are luxuries best preserved for holidays and the philanthropists’ banquet.
First and Second General rights: an inextricable link
In the passage cited earlier on, Dullar Omar argued that there is a tendency for those who oppose second generation or socio-economic rights to also jettison first generation rights. It is now clear that this is not an accidental occurrence. Indeed, the relationship must also be asserted in a more fundamental manner: those who want to oppose the achievement of socio-economic rights must of necessity begin by undermining first generation rights?
I would argue that a dictator who builds houses remains a dictator and does not represent an achievement of human rights. For the delivery of housing to constitute a moment in the achievement of human rights it must be the popular classes themselves, through institutions that they themselves have created, who decide on what houses to build, and on how to build, and how to build them. Only when the decision-making process around the delivery of houses is itself transparent and democratic, when it is open to be forged, influenced and changed by the popular classes themselves does it become a moment in the realisation of human rights. Human rights are one and indivisible.
The indivisibility of human rights in the single most important lesson out of the collapse of Stalinist socialism. Very few would argue about the fact that socio-economic outcome like housing, health, water, education and so on were in some cases on a much higher plane than in many capitalist countries. It was Stalinism’s attempt to balkanise human rights, in particular its denial of democratic rights or first generation rights that ensured its demise.
Concluding Remarks: The Democratisation of Disempowerment
The protagonists of Gear will of necessity continue to trumpet democracy, free elections, and so on. Indeed, as Hippler has remarked, “as long as its own interests are not damage, [the west] prefers free and fair elections to dictatorship.
This is both for material and ideological reason: election governments have greater legitimacy and can be a basis for greater stability. Elected government can also demand more from their populations than illegitimate dictators.”
The fact that Gear and neoliberalism have corroded and continue to corrode South Africa’s democratic institutions can lead to the popular classes turning away from democratic institutions and cultures. Gear’s failure to deliver on socio-economic rights is, as it turns out, its greatest blow to first generation rights. Once again, as Hippler argues,” one result of this is that the citizens of the South become disillusioned with their ‘democracy’ and with their own state, and indeed they must become disillusioned since the governments and politicians elected by them do not solve, and are incapable of solving, the most fundamental problems confronting them. Disillusionment leads to a turn away from democracy, to apathy or to pointless rebellion.
In South Africa today, the rise of xenophobia among the popular classes prefigures such a turn away from democracy. People will take their destiny into hands, not by shaping and determining the economic forces that shape their lives, but by killing foreigners who in the South African context have to be black. In the absence of credible and serious political leadership, people will praise and even protect those who lead in the heists.
The democratisation of disempowerment is completed by the disempowerment of democracy. After it has been robbed of its content, democracy also proves incapable of serving its unction, which is to promote social dialogue and to make a populace faced with difficult social and economic decision realise that the development of each is conditional on the development of all.
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