This province which post 94 has seen sharpened racial conflict, is populated by a majority of coloureds with Africans and Whites as minorities. In light of the nation building project, how should these tensions be understood? Does the manifestation demonstrate an unresolved national question? Are we failing the national building project? What are the political and economic factors which shape the contours of the national question within the province?
By Dr Oscar van Heerden
There is a commonly held perception that the ANC said that we should try and ignore the coloured voters in and around Cape Town and rather rely on the influx of Africans from the Eastern Cape. This is uppermost in the minds of a lot of coloured people when you interact with them. They have this view that they can see this, meaning, the influx of particularly Xhosa’s.
Also, the fact that there is no coloured role models – when you sit with people and you ask them they will tell you that you know clearly the economic scale is against us because you look at the Patrice, the Tokyo’s, the Cyril’s, etcetera – where are the coloured role models with wealth?
Even Indians have role models in terms of the new, the nouveau riche post 1994. Where are our coloured role models?
Then of course there’s the syndrome of feeling special. This notion that during apartheid, Africans being at the very bottom, you knew there were some privileges and accommodation made for coloured people in education, health and in a number of other social services. So this notion that suddenly they are not special anymore, goes hand in hand with we are also not black enough in terms of affirmative action, BEE and all these other policy choices made post ’94.
Racism of course is still very pervasive in the Western Cape and it is systemic and structural because it is informed by history. This province which post 94 has seen sharpened racial conflict, is populated by a majority of coloureds with Africans and Whites as minorities. In light of the nation building project, how should these tensions be understood?
Does the manifestation demonstrate an unresolved national question? Are we failing the national building project? What are the political and economic factors which shape the contours of the national question within the province?
In the 60s Colonialism of a Special Type (CST) was the preeminent theoretical framework used in the analysis of the South African National Question.
During this period, the understanding was that “black” meant the inclusion of Coloureds and Indians. The majority (Coloureds) of whom reside in the Western Cape. Indian South Africans who, and I quote, “despite deceptive and often meaningless concessions, share a common fate with their African brothers and own their liberation bound up with the liberation of the African people.” This was in the policy document of the ANC in 1969.
In other words the strategy aimed at liberating the black majority, of which Coloured people were considered a part, from national oppression and exploitation. It challenged and largely undermined a negative minority approach, i.e. thinking of one group as a separate entity. So it was very clear that we are one black majority and there are not these negative minority issues. In addition, the thesis committed a strategic mistake by imposing the concept of African leadership on the Western Cape in the 1980s.
The central aspect of the national question in South Africa was about defeating CST which would then lead to the emergence of a new sovereign and non-racial South Africa in which race, ethnicity and nationality are no longer indices of difference. According to the thesis this concept of nation was not defined by skin colour or racial designation. It involved sovereignty that will come from a people as a whole and not from a collection of Bantus and racial and tribal groupings organised to perpetuate minority rule.
Now, the thesis has not really grappled with the theoretical and programmatic aspects of the national question post 1994. There is still no rigorous theoretical conceptualisation of the dynamics of race and class in the post-apartheid era. For a long time we were governed by the thesis of CST. Perhaps it’s now time for a new framework and doctrine to deal with class and race as we move in this current political conjuncture.
The second approach, to understand dynamics of the national question in the Western Cape, one must look at post-apartheid capitalism. The structural constraints as well as the obvious fundamental basic principle of capitalism which is to ensure profitability and weakening of the working class within the country, but in this case in the province of the Western Cape.
South Africa is essentially a capitalist state which is presiding over three fundamental processes. One – the restoration of capitalist profitability to a capitalist trajectory built on the back of cheap black labour. Two – the reinsertion of white owned capital into the global economy at the expense of the national objectives, and thirdly the emergence of a black stratum of this capitalist class.
Such a state is complicating and delaying the resolution of the national question.
Firstly, Webster and Van Holdt demonstrated that capitalist globalisation has given birth to a new despotism at work, leading to a reorganisation of labour and the weakening of black workers in general. Secondly, the entire labour force is under attack in terms of wage disputes, low wages, etc. And then Du Toit says as a third argument, one must go beyond the simplistic reductionist and linear deterministic accounts of capital globalisation.
What happens to black workers under this new despotism is not simply the direct result of capitalist globalisation, but also locally mediated. In the case of rural Western Cape, these contexts include a social and cultural legacy of slave society, colonial settlements, segregation, white domination and apartheid which produce racialize identities.
These were later challenged by our political dynamic of democratisation, political transition, human rights and the transformation and restructuring of a democratic local government. However, these democratic impulses did not fully defeat the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, particularly in the Western Cape as shown by the dire conditions of farm workers in the province, despite the introduction of favourable laws. It’s a continuous struggle within the rural area.
The new labour laws protecting farm workers did not structurally change and reverse the long history of disposition. This long history helped create a white rural land-owning class which has assumed that ownership of land also means the right to govern the lives of those who work it (i.e. the land). Before the new labour laws, social relations of paternalism permeated Western Cape farms in the form of the “dop system” (a system where part of the workers payment was a certain quantity of alcohol). This would not only create dependency but also severe alcoholism. In addition workers were dependent on housing from farm owners as well as get threatened with evictions and vulnerability of racial and physical abuse.
Clearly the new labour laws fall far short of effectively addressing the structural foundations of these social relations. There is evidence of a shift away from the use of permanent workers towards the use of temporary seasonal and subcontracted labour that is largely women and an increase in the numbers of outsiders (migrant labour).
According to research done by Du Toit and Ali in 2004, African workers from the Eastern Cape brought in on contract are forced into constant friction with the Coloured insiders.
In other words, White controlled Western Cape Agriculture is passing rifts and costs onto black workers while at the same time exploiting cheap labour and dividing workers on a racial basis. Another critical factor was the entrenchment of existing property rights in terms of the political settlement post 1993-1994.
These property rights were obtained and secured through disposition, destruction of social economic systems, national oppression, gender oppression and economic exploitation. And as Joe Slovo once remarked, the basic objectives of liberation cannot be achieved without undermining the accumulated political, social, cultural and economic White privileges.
The moulding of our nation will be advanced in direct proportion to the elimination of these accumulative privileges. When Coloured people look at how redress on the economic front is taking place, they feel excluded. They feel that there is a disjuncture between what’s happening and where they are situated within the Western Cape in particular.
This is worse in the Western Cape where there remains significant presence of white parties in the provincial and local governments as well as intense fractures of state institutions and resources that are used to protect white privileges such as the many anecdotal stories and reports about rural police stations refusing to act against abusive and racist farmers in the Western Cape. Objectively, the post-apartheid working classes had its traditional power base weakened and its social and political weight reduced to the combined impact of the restoration of capitalist profitability.
On the issue of class and race, Volpe’s view was that the basis of the national question lay in the economic structure. Informed by this view which raised the question, what are the contours of the new post-apartheid racial order and how does it reflect the changing labour supplies, the informalisation of work and the emergence of an African bourgeoisie? In what ways does liberal democracy conserve or restore or challenge the racial division of labour and racialised property relations?
Further work is required to analyse the socio economic profile of White workers in order to identify similarities and differences between them and black workers. Through that kind of an investigation, one would come to appreciate the underlying factors, not the objective realities, because one always finds it very interesting that there’s this argument that there’s a difference between what poor people in Mannenberg and those in Guguletu wants.
They want the same thing. The DA has managed to convince, particularly Coloureds, that they want a different set of stuff, when if you are poor – you are poor and you want the same basic stuff.
Similarly, if you are an exploited worker, you have the same to argue for.
In all of these, the ruling class has sought to shape the substance of the new South African Nation and its state given that Coloured and African workers largely depend on the White capitalist class for employment. And they have certainly made full use of exploiting the two groupings by pitting them against each other.
So when we asked the question if Afro-Neo Liberalism can resolve the national question, it correctly emphasises the urgency of tackling racial inequalities and racism within society but conveniently forgets that it is the very black working class that is at the receiving end of undefeated white racism and capitalist exploitation.
The real aristocrats, i.e. white monopoly capital, are left unchallenged by Afro-Neo Liberalism except insofar as to how they should be encouraged and given incentives to support the creation of a black capitalist class. This emerging class fraction has typically not accumulated its own capital through unleashing of productive processes, but relies on special share deals, affirmative action, BEE quotas, fronting, privatisation and trading on one real piece of capital.
The concept of African leadership or hegemony has been described by the ANC as hegemony of indigenous Africans over national life and character of the new nation. There are three problems with this formulation.
Firstly, African is implied so as not to consciously and deliberately include the Khoi-San people which includes the history of an ignored but heroic anti- colonial resistance. This is to miss an important opportunity to embrace and reaffirm the African origins of large sections of Coloured people in the Western Cape.
Secondly, African is also used loosely to paper over class differentiation amongst the diverse African communities in South Africa. African leadership can end up as a narrow nationalistic concept if it is not related to its class content. To be controversial, there’s no doubt that Whites like the communist Joe Slovo was a far better representative of black working-class interests than the black, but capitalist Patrice Motsepe.
The third problem has to do with the imagery of a timeless pre-colonial African society which can be transmitted as a whole to a 21st century capitalist South Africa. This has opened the doors for moribund feudal
forces and practices to rear their ugly heads.
Under these conditions, black working-class unity as the bedrock of nation building, is far from a reality. Instead the entrenchment of racial identities, mutual fears and mistrust are the order of the day.
In the 1980s, the anti-apartheid struggle was characterised by intensive and grounded political education of activists and a mass base of non-racialism and nation building. In contrast the post 94 period has been marked by a virtual absence of such political education. This rise of narrow Africanism within the ANC in the Western Cape, on the back of the concept of African leadership can be seen as the beginnings of a tendency towards national exclusiveness which must be understood as a drive by the bourgeois elite among the oppressed to take over the role of the new exploiter.
Such Africanism is strategically incapable of structurally rolling back apartheid geography, socially immobilise the non-racial homeless people’s movement and de-commodify basic services as basis for building integrated communities. The emergence of this kind of Africanism is found in how the ANC’s Strategy and Tactics is defined in class terms.
For example, Joel Netshitenzhe narrowed the scope for national liberation to the removal of barriers that have been set by Apartheid in terms of black people and Africans in particular, access to the economy and services, leaving intact the economic structure of society. In the same piece he also sought to equate the role of the working class in national liberation together with that of the middle strata.
There was something quite deterministic about the CST thesis about how nation building would take place post-apartheid. It had this assumption that we would automatically just gel and start building a nation, which
as we know is not happening and these include criticisms in the manner in which – these include the racialisation of transformation, inequality, capitalism, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and criticism in the manner which shows degeneration of the national debate to the level of race populism. A far cry from the rainbowism and even further from the national, radical national project.
One additional challenge that played itself out in the Western Cape is also the issue of provincialism – with the formation of the nine provinces the basic argument is that it has reinforced ethnic positions which we thought the ANC had long dealt with in its almost 100 year history.
In KwaZulu Natal, the Zulu ethnic phenomenon, in the Eastern Cape the Xhosa, and of course in the Western Cape Coloureds as the majority reinforces because we’re now in a geographically defined space which governs ourselves and so provincialism has contributed to murky the water on the national question.
On the rethink of the racial basis of affirmative action, anti-discrimination, equity and affirmative action policies are legitimate policies to change the demographic content of public and private institutions as a start but these policies seem to have had racialised side-effects.
Those who benefited the most from these measures are middleclass blacks whilst the racialised structural inequalities facing the black majority remain entrenched. Despite their broad-based and legitimate nature, affirmative action and equity policies have also not been able to build bridges between Africans and other racial groups around the country.
Racialised divisions and antagonisms have been swept by the implementation of these policies. A range of commentators across the political spectrum forcefully argue that these policies perpetuate race category identities and race thinking. The DA plays on this whole “swart gevaar,” telling coloureds they are not black enough and are not getting positions on the basis of due merit. And of course, this plays out, if we look at the voting patterns.
In conclusion, if we look at deepening social theory and the practice on the national question, the nation-building project requires a class approach to understand coloured and Indian identities and consciousness, the object conditions and positions of these communities as well as their class structure. For example, Coloureds come up with extremely negative human developed indices in national statistics. This is at variance with the notion that Coloureds benefited more than Africans from apartheid.
It is not possible to achieve any of the above tasks when you look at the ANC who has a membership of more than 90% which is African in the Western Cape. The challenge is to open working-class politics and organisations to the coloured working class. If we want to get to grips with understanding the impact of the national question in the Western Cape, the route is to definitely go through the Coloured working class.