The current unrest and destruction in South Africa, about which we spoke yesterday, can be traced all the way back to a deliberate policy choice of the African National Congress (ANC) during the 1980's, when that organization was still banned and functioned as a resistance movement. It called at the time to make South Africa ungovernable, as part of the war against apartheid. The notorious encouragement to murder farmers and their families also dates back to this period.
An early indication of the direction that the ANC/SACP was moving in, when it came to the land question, was contained in the ANC National Executive Committee’s January 8th statement of 1984 delivered by Oliver Tambo, which also made the call for South Africa to be made ungovernable. This stated that:“On the commercial farms, the most merciless brutalisation of our people, especially women and children, takes place, every day and every hour of the day at the hands of the landowners. One of the fundamental elements for the solution of the problems facing our people in the countryside is the resolution of the land question in favour of the tillers. Our immediate task, therefore, is to mobilise the rural masses around the question of land. It is only when the countryside is organised that the rural masses will be able to respond resolutely to the call: ‘Seize the land!’"
Tambo’s January 8th statement in 1985 returned to the importance of organising in the farming areas of the country and placing “the perspective of seizing the land from the dispossessor in front of our rural masses and educate them to understand that this is a task that calls for dedication, determination and sacrifice.” This address stated “The dispossession of our people of the land that is theirs remains one of the most burning national grievances….Millions of our people in the rural areas are brutally exploited as agricultural workers on farms carved out of their ancestral lands. Their daily lives are dominated by the dictates of the racist White farmers and agricultural companies against whom they have absolutely no redress, because they are the least organised and mobilised.” It then delivered the ominous warning, “The land question must be resolved, if needs be, the hard way.”
While the ANC leadership remained cautious around the selection of targets for MK, for which they and their Western (if not Soviet-bloc) funders and backers would have to account, they were far less discriminating when it came to their efforts to incite violence by their supporters. Whatever horrors and excesses resulted could plausibly be ascribed to justified outrage at the injustices and oppression that black South Africans had had to endure for decades under the apartheid system, or as a reaction to the brutal and often murderous state response to the insurrection.
There's more at the link.
I was there at the time, of course. I well remember the calls to "make the country ungovernable". Measures included "rent boycotts" and "electricity boycotts", where residents of racially segregated black townships were encouraged (and in many cases forced at gunpoint) to refuse to pay their rent, electric bills, etc. So widespread did this become that many townships were economically crippled, their administrations unable to pay workers or buy the necessary parts and equipment to perform essential services. Other measures included boycotting white-owned businesses. This was brutally enforced, including making housewives who broke the boycott drink the liquid soap and cooking oil that they'd bought to feed and sustain their families. Others were beaten, some were shot. Forced compliance through terror was the order of the day, and resistance or disobedience was branded as support for apartheid, with potentially lethal consequences. Any shops in or near black townships were in constant danger of being looted and burned as part of "nationalizing" white businesses by force - whether or not they were owned by whites.
This had devastating consequences for those who only wanted to live as peacefully as possible. Some years ago, I wrote about my experiences during one such event. It had a profound impact on me, and changed the course of my life.
At the end of the apartheid era and the start of a fully democratic South Africa, this created an ongoing problem. After a decade or more of refusing (or being threatened to make them refuse) to pay rent and utility costs, many township residents came to assume that these services would be supplied to them as of right, and saw no reason to resume paying for them. (Endemic unemployment and poverty provided plenty of immediate justification to those who thought that way. After all, was not "liberation" supposed to make them free? Then why did it not include housing, services, etc. - also free?) The fact that many black South Africans were economically illiterate, as a direct result of the abysmally poor and deliberately inferior standards of "Bantu education" in that country, was undoubtedly an important factor in such attitudes. The concept that somebody had to pay for such services was incomprehensible to many.
Just as attacks on white farmers have never died down since the mid-1980's "militarization" (or should that be "terrorization"?) of the land struggle, so the instinctive response to boycott oppressive regime structures has never gone away since it was deliberately encouraged and inculcated during the same period. Therefore, to see residents of still largely segregated areas (this time de facto rather than de jure, but still the fruit of apartheid policies that had initially set them aside for a particular race group) rioting, destroying township infrastructure, and attacking businesses to take what they need or want rather than paying for it, is in so many words a continuance of the habits they were encouraged to adopt during apartheid.
The ANC now forms the government of South Africa. It's bitterly ironic that its calls to "make the country ungovernable" during its struggle against the apartheid regime are now bearing poisoned fruit in its own struggle to govern a post-apartheid South Africa. The fact that the ANC's problems are largely caused by inefficiency, corruption, nepotism and just plain criminality, rather than by resisting an entrenched racist government, is neither here nor there. It's become as unpopular among broad swaths of the population as the apartheid government ever was, and it's being resisted in the same way. "The biter, bit."
I said, back in 1994, that I thought it would take at least two generations for the bitterness and brutality of the apartheid years to work their way out of South African society and allow a truly democratic nation to grow from their ashes. Reckoning a generation at 25 years, we've only just entered the second of those generations. When it ends, will the residue of the years of struggle and revolution have had enough time to abate? Right now, it sure doesn't look that way… I might have to adjust my forecast to three, or even four generations.