[DEBATE] : Naomi Klein on SA -- the implicit callforrevolutionary leadership?
grinker at mweb.co.za
Tue Nov 6 10:18:15 GMT 2007
I think Peter W is largely correct, and so is his concluding paragraph about
lessons to be learned. Doug is also right that many in the leadership had a
conservative agenda. Once the deal-making began, the point was to wind down
the mass movement - except to use it on occasion as a stage army to get
extra leverage in negotiations. The trouble caused by massed youth at Chris
Hani's funeral convinced the leadership that unleashing even occasional mass
action was too much of a risk; and the 28 marchers murdered at Bisho by the
army were a not-so-subtle message from de Klerk that such things would no
longer be tolerated.
A few additional points from my own experiences:
The disorientation of the exile leadership after Moscow's dumping of state
socialism was profound. It wasn't just that inexperienced and unskilled
people were instantly promoted - although this is true - but that it became
much easier to shape and nurture a whole leadership layer. Some might say
that this layer was also corrupted.
Imagine landing back home after many tough years in exile. You're
immediately whipped off to a plush conference venue and put up in a fancy
hotel. As time goes on, your feet hardly touch the ground. You seldom get to
renew your old links with local political structures and become part of a
drawn-out negotiations process in which you're surrounded by legions of
'advisors', many of them former lefty academics and NGO activists who have
recently discovered the gospels of the free market and 'small government'.
You're also initiated into a new and privileged lifestyle and as time goes
on it becomes more and more difficult to even think about getting back onto
the ground and involving yourself in mobilising people during the transition
phase. In fact it is't long before the movement starts using the services of
advertising consultants to shape its message to the masses ('A better life
for all!') rather than dirtying its hands doing traditional mobilising work.
As time goes on, civic leaders and younger activists are also pulled into
the negotiations caravan. A variety of negotiating forums - all well-funded
and also accommodated in fancy venues away from the townships - involves
activists in a long process of reaching 'sufficient consensus' in key areas
such as housing, electrification, water and sanitation, health etc.
One just needs to look at the grey, depressing and already dilapidated
low-cost housing schemes that surround big cities today or experience our
overstretched health service, to understand just what this consensus really
meant in the longer term.
Things got worse when movement cadres were sent off into government after
'94. They were in most cases no match for a sophisticated apartheid state
bureaucracy and its Bantustan offspring. The outlook of the old order soon
reasserted itself as the new appointees adapted to rather than transforming
it. Newly-minted bureaucrats who proved unable to deal with incoming mail or
answer telephones, however rapidly became conversant with every detail of
government car allowances and housing subsidies. And then there were those
who were co-opted by big business and never seen again except in the
business sections of the bourgeois press, proclaiming their faith in black
empowerment, or expounding on their tastes in quality wines and large German
As to the left - well if we're honest it never really figured did it? Unless
you count all the born-again advisors who wrote new government policy or
initially took up senior posts in the state bureaucracy. But then I suppose
these people had long since ceased to resemble anything vaguely progressive.
Of course this is all terribly one-sided and there were numerous hard
working and well intentioned activists, inside and outside the movement, who
tried their best in difficult circumstances and in some cases continue to do
so. But I think we can conclude that they are a lost generation. It is to an
emerging generation that we need to look for the beginnings of something
>The 19th and 20th century experience is there to be learned from, not
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