The ANC and the South African Deal with Monopoly Capitalism

Real News Network talks to Vishwas Satgar

Vishwas Satgar has been a grass roots activist in South Africa for the past 28 years. He is currently engaged in supporting the Solidarity Economy Movement in township communities, supporting food sovereignty campaigning , climate jobs campaigning and defending popular democracy in South Africa. His academic interests include a focus on African political economy, Empire and Global crisis, Green Global political Economy and Transnational Alternatives. He is a Senior Lecturer at the Univesity of the Witwatersrand.


Vishwas Satgar: At the heart of the bargain with monopoly capital was we will globalize, we will embrace neoliberal globalized economics, while you de-racialize the structures of the South African economy which led to black economic empowerment and the creation of a class of super-rich blacks.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

In South Africa the class struggle is intensifying. Now joining us to discuss it further is Vishwas Satgar. He’s a senior lecturer at the University of Wits in Johannesburg. Thanks very much for joining us, Vishwas.


JAY: So in our previous interviews we’ve talked a lot about the ANC and the fact that it following neoliberal economic policy and that these mineworkers are fighting against that. But let’s just back up a step. What is it you mean when you say the ANC is pursuing neoliberal economics? I mean, people will say you have a capitalist economy in South Africa, why talk about it as neoliberal.

SATGAR: Well, it is a form of capitalism in this era of late capitalism, and it’s a form of capitalism that grounds three things. It grounds a vision of a business civilization grounded in values of, you know, possessive individualism, competition, greed. And in the end, you know, we all are just meant to be part of this business civilization. It’s an invite to be part of that. I think the second issue is the way it understands the economy. And essentially the economy is really about growth at all costs, but growth in the context of the global economy. The policies that come with this—liberalization, deregulation, financialization, etc., externalize economies—they take economies away from what is important for domestic needs, for domestic development. They are geared around transnational corporate power.

I think the third issue is how the country is ruled. And basically it’s about how the state, in this case the ANC state, prevails over our democracy and over social relations that make up the society. And increasingly what we are witnessing is an ANC state that is completely impervious to social pressures and voice from below. Instead, it privileges managing risk to capital over risk to people and nature. And that is the essence of the neoliberal capitalist order that we face.

Now, when the ANC came to power, they had a choice—at least theoretically they had a choice. I guess some would argue there wasn’t a real choice, given the political pressure and the mounting economic leverage against them. But in theory—and I guess the question I’m asking you: do you think in reality they could have gone down any other road than the road of privatization? I mean, they could have built up the public sector far more significantly. But on the whole, if I understand it correctly, they chose to go the route of privatization and that form of economy. Is that true? And do you think they had a choice?

SATGAR: No, they did. I mean, the ANC essentially chose deep globalization on the terms of transnational capital. But between that and what we inherited, there were definitely other options. Ironically, it was the World Bank which set up its office in the early ’90s that was arguing that South Africa could afford serious redistributive policies. All the macroeconomic modeling that it did basically posited the idea of fiscal deficits to address a whole host of basic needs which were not addressed under apartheid.

But going beyond the World Bank, within the liberation movement itself there was a deep, hard debate and discussion about economic policy choices. This crystallized out in what is commonly known as the reconstruction and development program. The reconstruction and development program was essentially about a redistributive ANC government, an ANC government that would deepen and strengthen democratization in the country. It would be a government that would ensure that we consider the next wave of industrial developments on our terms.

Now, that policy was jettisoned. It was built through consensus. People voted for the ANC in 1994 because they believed they were voting for the reconstruction and development program. By 1996, two years into ANC being in government, that policy’s completely jettisoned, we have a full-blown macroeconomic policy being put into place, and we end up with what we have now—growing inequalities, very high unemployment, which is possibly the highest in the world, 60 percent unemployment rate amongst our youth, growing poverty. And the response of the ANC to all of this is that, well, you know, we’ve delivered on some fronts, we’ve delivered to the housing needs of our people, maybe over 2.5 million housing units. We have a social grant system in—which we have over 14 million people on. But that’s the sum total of it.

I mean, the effects of neo-liberalization, the hollowing out of capacities inside the state, all of that is beginning to kind of come back to roost and challenge.

JAY: So who, then, now owns stuff in South Africa? Who dominates in terms of owning the commanding heights of the economy? And I guess within that there is a new black elite that owns stuff and has gotten very rich.

SATGAR: Well, at the heart of the bargain with Monopoly capital, homegrown monopoly capital in South Africa, was, well, we will globalize, we will embrace this kind of neoliberal globalized economics, while at the same time you de-racialize the structures of the South African economy. The policy that was put to the fore actually coming from business was black economic empowerment.

SATGAR: Yeah. I mean, basically, I mean, there was this bargain around globalization, which is what white monopoly capital wanted, and they wanted policies to make that happen. At the same time, they’ve proposed to the ANC they’ll de-racialize some of the structures of the South African economy. And black economic empowerment became a crucial policy plank to bring this about.

JAY: Can I ask you—let me ask you one quick question. To what extent do you think Western-, American-led opposition to apartheid was about opening up the South African economy and bring it more into the globalized economy and a lot less about any rights for Africans?

SATGAR: Well, you know, the U.S. had a very serious debate, you know, in civil society, but also within the U.S. Congress in the ’80s, about—there they were various options. There was divestment, which was really about putting pressure on pension funds and so on that where investing in South Africa. And various universities in the United States which had pension money, etc., in South Africa were successful in ensuring divestment.

Then, of course, there was the disinvestment option, which really meant that corporations had to pull out of the South African economy the kind of bricks-and-mortar kind of investment. And that eventually did have some kind of impact, although it came a bit late. There was an act passed in the American Congress to this effect. And I think all of that added up in the context of the pressures that were being placed on the South African state.

Now, whether that was about, you know, trying to ensure globalization and so on, well, I think that’s a bit of a leap. I mean, I think in the end the imperatives in the ’80s were to really open the way for a democratic transition.

I mean, I think what happened since the ’80s and now, there were also very conscious policy choices made. And as I said earlier, I mean, the ANC could have embraced an alternative to deep globalization. They could’ve articulated the global economy. We could have had an internationalized relationship with the global economy, but on our terms.

JAY: Well, the counterargument I’ve heard to that is that finance capital, global finance capital simply wouldn’t agree with that. The new ANC government was dependent on these kind of foreign funds, and that the pressure was you go down this type of economy, ’cause that’s what we wanted all along, which is the one you described as neoliberal.

SATGAR: Well, no. I mean, you know, the thing about the South African economy is interesting in terms of the surpluses of the South African economy. A lot of it sits in pension funds which are still locked into the national economy. There’s trillions of rands of worker money sitting there. You have a banking sector that is relatively globalized, again, sitting on large sums of our national surplus. You have corporations that have been on investment strike apparently sitting on ZAR 1 billion worth of reserves.

So in the domestic economy itself, there’s idle capital or nonproductive capital which can be redirected towards national development priorities. You know, ironically, the apartheid government did some of this. They actually redirected our pension and provident funds, etc., into national development. Now, you know, please understand I’m not talking about, you know, putting up a brick wall around the South African economy and so on, but there was room here for us to think about an alternative development path, which—.

JAY: So why didn’t they?

SATGAR: Well, it was there. It was in the reconstruction and development—.

JAY: No, no. I mean, why didn’t they pursue that policy?

SATGAR: Well, I think in the end a kind of political bargain with monopoly capital took over and shadowed the kind of—the people’s alternative, if you like. And, you know, since ’96, the kind of neoliberal policies that were put in place allowed all our monopolies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to list offshore. Exchange controls are almost completely removed in South Africa, which enables them to move offshore. They are no longer domestic corporations.

So, you know, that’s basically the big game that business won. It’s not footloose. And South African policymaking elites and politicians believed, well, okay, if we allow that tradeoff, then—and if we have the right macroeconomic parameters in place, which gives confidence to business, FDI will flow in. But that hasn’t really been the driver of the postapartheid economy.

JAY: FDI being foreign direct investment.

SATGAR: Direct investment. Yeah, yeah.

JAY: Yeah. And in the course of this, a black elite has gotten very rich. How important a factor is that?

SATGAR: No, that is a big factor. I mean, if you look at the Forbes, I think it is, top billionaires in the world, we have a few black billionaires amongst those rankings.

To give you an example, Patrice Motsepe, who is a platinum magnate who’s made his billions (he’s a billionaire) within platinum mining through his company called Rainbow Minerals, is a major benefactor to the ANC. The recent debate in—South Africa policy debate is also about him probably stepping in to buy out Lonmin at sort of basement prices.

You also have people like Tokyo Sexwale, who is a prominent leader in the ANC. His name is emerging for a top position in the ANC. He’s also made his money through various investments and holdings across the economy.

There is Cyril Ramaphosa, who sits on the board of Lonmin, linked to what is called Shanduka investments. He has—.

JAY: Yeah. Just to remind people, Lonmin being the mine where the Marikana workers are on strike and all the killings took place recently.

SATGAR: Correct. Yeah. I mean, there are many people like this who—.

JAY: And so, just in short, the miners are taking on all of this.

SATGAR: I think in short the miners call into question where the post-apartheid order is going to and who has benefited.

JAY: Alright. Thanks very much. We’ll talk more in the coming weeks. Thanks for joining us.

SATGAR: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And if you want to see more stories like this, there’s a “Donate” button over here, ’cause if you don’t click on that, we can’t do this.


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