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Race and class under ANC rule by Ebrahim Harvey

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Kole Omotoso


This is a difficult book to review in the traditional way of book reviewing. We are reviewing our performance after 25 years. And the result is that we have failed. In the old system of education under the colonial rule and taken over later by our governments if a pupil failed at the end of the year, he or she was made to repeat the year. It is hoped that the pupil will do better. Usually, the pupil does better and is promoted to the next higher grade.

Unfortunately, politics does not work the way education used to work. Remember the father of one Nigerian Governor whose son was judged to have failed as a governor. He pleaded that if indeed his son failed, he should be allowed to repeat!!!

Ebrahim Harvey did his master’s and doctorate degrees on water and sanitation in Soweto. He has been a trade unionist and political analyst. He published a political biography of former president and deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe in 2012. His latest publication The Great Pretenders: Race and Class Under and Rule is dense with history and historical detail.

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Yet, nothing obscures the conclusion of the book that the ANC failed at governing South Africa from1994 until now. Why did the ANC fail? The quick answer is that they did not understand race and class in their country and they negotiated from a position of abject ignorance of what they needed to do once they were in power. The longer answer would be that they agreed to carry on running the capitalist system for the benefit of white monopoly capital.

Two quotes we need to keep in mind to understand the scope of this book are from the author. He insists that the book was inspired by the Marikana massacre of 2012 and the fees must fall student uprising of 2015. “There is, I believe, a deep historical connection between Marikana and the conditions under which British imperialism rooted itself in this country, following the mineral revolution of the 19th century and which essentially continued after the negotiated settlement between the ANC and the apartheid regime in 1993.” This is the first quote, number 1 endnote to the Preface.

The second quote explains itself. “So overwhelming is the historical evidence which shows systemic links between racism, apartheid and capitalism throughout SA, especially after the 19th century mineral revolution, that there are many scholarly works to refer to. But for my purposes I regard the following as among the best: Darcy du Toit, Capital and Labour in South Africa: Class Struggle in the 1970s (London & Boston: Keagan Paul International, 1980); Timothy Keegan, Colonial South Africa and the Origins of the Racial Order (Cape Town: David Philip, 1996); Michael MacDonald, Why Race Matters in South Africa (Cambridge, MA &. London: Harvard University Press, 2006).”

The first four chapters of the book prepares the reader for chapter five, which is the most important chapter of the book. ‘The historical origins of the concept of race,’ ‘Race, racialism and racism: Definitions and theoretical reflections,’ ‘Race, class and gender in South African history’ and ‘Towards understanding the African National Congress’ prepares the reader for chapter five: ‘Mandela, Negotiations And The Rise To Power Of The ANC.’

The remaining three chapters, ‘Some notes on the National Question,’ ‘The “New South Africa” unravels: Race, class and gender struggles’ and ‘The vengeance of “history”? Ask the reader to consider what must be done in the light of the failure of the ANC to govern South Africa.

What Dr. Harvey proves without any possible contradiction is that wherever it mattered, WMC wins apartheid or no apartheid. The wages and working conditions against, which the miners at Marikana were striking want made better by the changes supposed to have taken place after the negotiations of 1993, sealed by the elections of 1994. “Behind all the rhetoric about democracy and the will of the people, all democratic states, to a greater or lesser degree, defend capitalist interests, profits and accumulation. Capital is a very powerful force, which even the most robust constitutional democracies know to be an undeniable fact.” (p. 321).

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So, what is to be done? If there was anything to the two stage theory, we should now be moving to the second stage of our national salvation revolution. The socialist stage. But it is nonsense. The government has failed to make life more abundant for the working class blacks of South Africa.

For now, there is no alternative to the ANC. Such alternative, if they exist, are taking their time making themselves apparent. A refashioned DA failed. Julius Malema’s FFF showed it was no different from its elders in the ANC through its participation in the VBS robbery. So, some form of the ANC must be detained to repeat the work of governing the country properly. It is the reason why Ebrahim Harvey supports the ANC about officers accused of corruption must step aside. It is a beginning.

So many myths of the ANC has been punctured in this book. This was the basis of the special position of South Africa in Africa.
South Africa was special. South Africa was unique. Things would turn out differently in South Africa. On that difference, that the ANC was fighting two struggles as one, would ensure that the cadres being deployed throughout the country would be conscious of their revolutionary duty. But, as Dr. Harvey insists, “the ANC was never really a powerful mass organisation.” So, instead of revolutionary fervor, they insisted they did not join the party to be poor. And the ANC agreed that cadres could, in fact, do business with the government they served. And therein lies the rub. Inflated prices, payment for work not done, payment for material not delivered and before long we are counting billions of rand lost to the national fiscus. Eskom, the Railways, townships, ministries and SOEs could not account for billions of rand. Like all African countries who insisted it was their turn to chop, South Africa was sunk in corruption. Thank you Dr. Ebrahim Harvey for a terrific book The Great Pretenders.

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