Monday, January 14, 2013


A mother remembers (photograph by Alf Kumalo)
A Mother Remembers - Alf Khumalo
This weekend I was part of a business delegation invited to attend the ruling party’s January 8 Statement activities in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. Much has been written about what was said (or not said) by the new ANC leaders that informs policy reform, at least for the next twelve months. The more I listened to the Statement and shared in social conversation with many other business leaders, the more I thought about the struggle for economic freedom. 

I wondered, how did South Africa win political freedom? Are there lessons from that difficult and costly struggle that can be applied to this newer, but equally challenging fight against systemic economic inequality plaguing our society? What will it take to beat this system? 

I think our choice of policy for accelerating effective participation by black people in the economy, was negatively affected by the Convention of a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) as well as the process that culminated into a negotiated political settlement. It is widely accepted that during CODESA certain concessions had to be made. In summary, we agreed to a ‘evolution’ of Black economic participation, and not a ‘revolution’. So the new government was to take a more transformational outlook and not a radical one in getting the scores of poor Black people into the mainstream economy.

I fear that it may take one very costly series of events to render this 'peaceful' economic struggle useless and the people may revert to an 'armed' struggle.

Does this sound familiar? Let me remind you. 

The African National Congress (ANC) was formed in 1912. The ANC Youth League of Tambo, Mandela and Sisulu was formed in 1944. The Youth League brought more vigor to this resistance and successfully argued for a more militant approach. They drew up a Programme of Action calling for strikes, boycotts and defiance. This Programme of Action was adopted by the ANC in 1949, the year after the National party came to power. It led to the Defiance Campaign of the 1950’s. 

But even then taking up arms was NOT on the agenda. So, for more than 4 decades, the ANC largely carried out peaceful demonstrations of resistance to the apartheid government. The 'peaceful' struggle continued and in 1955 African, Coloured and Indian political and social organisations organised themselves in Kliptown and released a progressive document: The Freedom Charter. 

It called for the people to govern and for the land to be shared by those who work it. The document also called for houses, work, security and for free and equal education. How did the government respond to this peaceful gathering and progressive outcome? They claimed that the Freedom Charter was a communist document. Since they had banned communism in 1950, they resolved to arrest ANC and other political leaders and brought them to trial in the famous Treason Trial. 

As if that was not enough, the government then announced that women must also carry passes. Guess what happened? Yet another 'peaceful' campaign was mounted by women countrywide, in 1956.

And then one day, something happened that would change the political struggle forever.

The PAC started a campaign on the 21st March 1960 where people were asked to leave their passes at home and gather at police stations to be arrested. People gathered in large numbers at Sharpeville in the Vaal and at Nyanga and Langa near Cape Town. At Sharpeville the police opened fire on the unarmed and peaceful crowd, killing 69 and wounding 186 people. 

The massacre of peaceful protestors at Sharpeville brought the era of peaceful protest to an end. 

On 30 March 1960, ten days after the Sharpeville massacre, the government banned the ANC and the PAC and declared a state of emergency and arrested thousands of its  activists. 

The massacre of peaceful protestors and the subsequent banning of the ANC made it clear that peaceful protest alone would not force the regime to change. The ANC took up arms against the South African Government in 1961 putting an end to 49 years of a political movement hoping to bring revolutionary change through peaceful resistance. 

From 1961, the ANC effectively became a new movement altogether. In 1990 the ANC was unbanned. In 1994 it won South Africa’s first democratic elections. It’s been in power ever since. 

So, its safe to say, it was largely because of the pressure of the armed struggle that the unwilling counter party was forced to the negotiation table, holding very little leverage leading to political emancipation. 

It is also worth noting that at the time, the emphasis was largely on socio-political freedom. Not to undermine the work that had been done before 1961 by ANC leaders in exile, the "straw that (eventually) broke the camel's back" was how the armed struggle rendered South Africa ungovernable forcing the hand of the oppressors

Do you think that ordinary South Africans don't remember this? Do you think our generation has forgotten how one day changed, and perhaps accelerated, the course (and cause) for political freedom? 

This BEE thing is not working.

This 'peaceful' economic struggle is not yielding any real results. How long will it take for an organised group of people, severely disenfranchised by a lack of socio-economic progress, to be adequately agitated and opt for a more aggressive approach? Especially, one that has been proven to work in the past. In fact, one that they, ironically, owe their very political freedom to. 

It should come as no surprise that after 19 years of a 'peaceful' and 'passive' offensive to get black people to be an integral part of mainstream economic activity, one is starting to hear calls for revolutionary means. And therein lies the danger: If we think this is about ceasing economic power from white hands to black hands, we further from the solution than we realise.

What we need to focus on is key levers of growing the economy into one that is controlled by ALL South Africans, equitably so. That means we must establish enabling legislation and supportive policies that will ENFORCE (as opposed to encourage) this behavior, otherwise it is only a matter of time until someone works out that this 'peaceful campaign' we call BEE is not working and we need a more aggressive strategy. 

By then, we may not be able to influence the outcome. The tide may be too strong. Time for rational thinking may be up.

How long before people start saying: "We've seen this before. Peace didn't work against a minority force resolute to keep their political power in 1950's. If anything, whilst we were protesting peacefully, they retaliated with the might of military power. Why should it be any different today? There hasn't been any genuine, scaleable commitment from the "haves" to broaden the ownership and control of the wealth, that was effectively seized from the indigenous people of this land. How much longer are we going to be in 'evolution'. 

You don't have to a be a heart surgeon to figure out what kind of power and leverage resides with 90% of any society that is gripped in poverty, feels highly disenfranchised, with a proven record in organizing behind a common cause. 

Bottom line: We need a Plan B on Economic Transformation. Fast!




  1. It may end up to "seizing power from black elitist to black masses".. Very dangerous indeed. But what are the poor suppose to do? Its difficult to continuosly face hunger, poverty, homelessness, sickness especially when you have kids and can't provide for them. That's a painfull empty feeling. I hope young emerging leaders can brainstorm the solutions, God Willing and SA can become a global success for the benefit of all its people.

    1. Indeed what are the poor supposed to do! Hence the call for policies that are 'game changers' towards real transformation, not a rehash of what we already know doesn't work. In due time i will blog about some of my thoughts around solutions

    2. No problem Andile, great article, was in your class UKZN,now @kpmg dbn. Btw, working with a friend of yours who is trying to get into contact with you..Bruce helped him pass many papers through late night studying. Pls provide me with some easy contact details for Bruce!

  2. Amandla how do we turn this article into action that yield results. I am asking because the opressors nature has evolved and become dual. Yes it is 10% of the previously advantaged that control +or- 90% of the economy and secondly the very same government and their friends elected by the people have monopoly of the BBBEE deals and dominance of boards. They are capable skilled who can run parastatetals but because they are of wrong politacal dispensation they are not allowed entry. When Ramaphosa and Tokyo became darlings of business they did not bring business skills and background rather they brought their political clout and that was enough for business, nobody questioned their capability and I am not saying they were not capable. Khaya Dludla

    1. I hear you about politicians turning into business people. This is a popular phenomenon all over the world. I am just not sure if this is the country's biggest challenge right now. With the scarce resources we have i would focus on key levers to ignite broad based transformation. The odd politician turned businessman isn't going to change the game in my view.

    2. I hear you. The politians were given as an example that if opportunities are shared every has capability to contribute positively to the solution. I am broaden the participation instead of concentrating on the few individuals. Revolt arise when people reserve opportunities to themselves and close circle.Thas is my point. Khaya Dludla

  3. Sanctions also formed a huge deciding factor that informed FW to carve a new direction towards SA democracy... Freedom fighters like Harry Belafonte & many of those all around Africa as well are our unsung heros... Having said that, let us be mindful that no international community will ever condone any such behavior of savage acts against other human beings.... Sanctions will b the sure thing should violence b even considered as an option... The only solution is 4 our leaders to act & to act now as a matter of urgency... This task should never be forced to d hands of d people - NOT AN OPTION!!!!

    1. I am hoping and agitating for that action Judith. I hope we don't have to go back to the days of sanctions to fix such problems. That would be a sad day indeed.

    2. I disagree with your opinion that sanctions were a "huge deciding factor" though I agree they played a small role - and financial sanctions were more significant.
      Sanctions strengthened the position of the regime because citizens could only buy local goods and the regime were the main supplier. Financial sanctions gave them the freedom to impose things such as exchange control on the locals. All that was really achieved was to entrench the government's total control of our lives and they no longer had to worry about foreign or united nations objections.

      In my opinion what ended Apartheid was the book about the Super Afrikaners where they pointed out that so many of the mainstream white conservatives and old south african families were coloureds. Our Dutch ,German and French ancestors were not /and often still aren't particular about the skin tone of their partners. I don't think the white(coloured) racists liked the idea of having to go and live amoung the coloureds !

  4. Baba Mntungwa I'm glad a business minded person like you does acknowledge the gap of deliberately manufactured inequality and the way you expressed it is 100% and I hope you've seen and heard the Julius Malema utterances that agitating for much of this 'armed economic struggle' although he might just not be the best example of squeaky clean representative of this struggle. I hope your article serves to inform all other business minded people in South africa to realize that our country cannot sustain this economic model where the majority are the have-nots in their own indigenous country. Great articles Sir.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Mbuso. I too hope such articles and many other out there at spark debate and a resolve to stop doing what Einstein calls Insanity: "doing the same thing repeatedly, and expecting a different result"

    2. Hi Andile,

      Thank you for another thought provoking piece. I have been thinking about this topic for a while now, and my fear is that we are not ready for economic power. We are still trapped in the ideology that the apartheid government systematically instilled in us. We still do not value ourselves, we still think that a white brain/consultant is better than a black one. We do not have the character necessary to maintain wealth- no matter how we get it. I think economic liberation needs to be preceded by mental liberation. The apartheid government deliberately imprisoned us mentally- why is our current government/ NGO sector, ANYBODY really not working strategy to clear our minds of the lies we have come to believe? I think once this is achieved, we will find new sources of wealth, we will be more enterprising and less dependant on the government or the guilt of white South Africans. Just a thought. Tsholofelo Khoza

  5. A very important subject matter for our generation. To all progressive africans this should be a struggle we pursue with more vigour. 

    As we individually embark on a quest for  policy proposals. We need to thoroughly understand the root cause of the situation we find ourselves in. Many of these problems are historical and well entrenched. 

    Personally, I believe this is a universal problem and has widely been perpetuated by how the first world nations historically positioned and organised their culture, economies and politics.

    I'm glad we are openly having this conversation.

  6. Surely if the govt can provide a billion through NSFAS they can do the same with funding young entrepreneurs without expecting one to pay back the loan. There are so many youngsters with business ideas who are being held back due to a lack of funding.

  7. AK, thank you again for another thought provoking article. I read the comments o your article and was left wondering about what drove the leaders of both phases of the pre-1994 struggle. I am sure self gratification was not the primary driver, rather doing what is right for the broader population. This is evident in the preamble to the Freedom Charter. In my view the first phase is implementing the resolutions around legislated involvement of the state in key industries and using those to drive economic transformation through skills development, education and procurement.
    The critical input in this will be the selfless and ethical human capital willing to work in the state administrative structures to drive the delivery.
    I am passionate about people giving of themselves to drive programme of action over selected portfolios and being ethical in how they do it.
    We have heard our leaders saying they need the human capital to drive their programmes, all we ask is for a clear framewoshown how this is to be done by South Africans for South Africa.

  8. I have seen whole schools that were all whites becom all blacks, universities that were all white become all black, suburbs that were white only become black only, roads that had only whites in them , beaches that had only whites become black only. SATV used to be only whites - now there don't seem to be any whites. The white people are leaving SA at a fast rate - soon everything that isn't already will be in black hands.

    Your vision of armed theft will only result in a bloodbath where every living organism in SA will be killed - you are shaking the tail of very dangerous people. During the liberation struggle the white forces were forced to act with restraint , now they will be perceived as acting in self-defence within the international community. What good is all the land if there are no people , all the jobs if there are no businesses, all the minerals if all the mines are destroyed. The "Zimbabweans" will end up migrating into SA and take it all over.

    A last thought - I often hear how the whites own large percentages of the economy - this means they are the ones taking the risks to create jobs mainly for black people. Maybe it is time the blacks "pulled their weight" and created their own fair share of jobs - why should the white people have to do everything, and then get threatened ,robbed and criticized for their efforts. Whats the matter with black people that they cannot go and find their own mineral deposits to mine.

    A very last thought is that the 1913 land act also had the effect of preventing the white farmers from acquiring all the land.

  9. Andile, you'll NEVER get something for nothing. Forget about free houses and free education. The natural world doesn't work that way. You must earn it and work hard for it.

    And let me educate you on how the ANC came in to power - with the explicit agreement of unconditional laying DOWN of arms by the ANC. The transition was negotiated on condition the ANC stopped their terrorism of killing innocents.
    Think of all the African nations that took back their land with war and violence - Mozambique, Angola etc... They are worse off now than they ever were before. South Africa is successful today precisely because there was no war and the whites are still here.
    The whites are the best thing to ever happen to South Africa - and no, not because of their skin colour but because of their education! Blacks in this country can be great too IF they become educated!
    What's wrong with studying, learning skills, getting an HONEST job (not BEE) or starting your own business? The white man does it, why can't blacks? Or rather - why do blacks not want to?
    Kindly spare the people of your greedy, vengeful, violent, uneducated, self-entitled bull crap commentary.

  10. At the core of the ANC message since before 1994, was equal opportunity & hard work. No man work like the black man if you just let him work. Don't dilute this message by take take take its a criminal mindset. It's always been we will work to buy back what was lost & make a good name for our nation. None violence has always been principle since days of Gandhi. There is no revolution nothing new. Just keep working & be peaceful & fair

  11. AK thank you for a very informative article and i share the same sentiments as you.I had a chance to go through a summary of what the NDP entails and i do believe the plan can be used as plan B for our economic transformstion that obvoiusly depends on whether it will be properly implemented.

  12. Andile, great article! Possibly worth another share/tweet as I'm sure it will enlighten many (as it did for me) and add a little more meaning to our holiday this Thursday.