The ANC and the legacy of the liberation struggle

“What [the ANC] have done to put the economy on a right footing, is, I think, almost miraculous,” Pamela Cox, former head of the South Africa Division at the World Bank.1At every turn the ANC government has embraced neo-liberal policies, and followed or gone beyond the advice of the IMF and the World Bank.2

There was huge hope and faith placed in the promised land of ‘democracy’ and ‘black rule’ during the struggle against apartheid. Now ex-activist officials complain about a prevailing ‘culture of non-payment’ as a redundant legacy from the anti-apartheid struggle, calling critics ‘counterrevolutionaries’, ‘agitators’ or ‘radicals’ – even as they cut off water and slip eviction notices under doors. But “there [is] simply no income in these areas. What had taken root was an economics of non-payment”. Much of South Africa's liberation struggle had a near-religious faith in a small group of leaders, but now there is widespread disillusionment with party politics and the whole parliamentary system. In April 2002, hundreds of people from Soweto burned their ANC membership cards at a protest over those arrested at an action against water cut-offs.

Those politicians who try to use or influence the new community struggles are faced with laughter and derision. In Chatsworth, Durban, where Desai focuses his book, the election turn-out in the year 2000 was 20 per cent. (It was 15 per cent during the hated tricameral system.)3 “People came to see that lobbying and due process was a futile fob-off when live ammunition was fired at them while they were begging for just thirty minutes more to obtain a court order preventing their eviction. Although tragedy constantly haunts those who operate in Chatsworth, the heavy handed response of the authorities has been a blessing. It has founded a politics that is unrepentant and unusually clear.”

These very people who every Saturday attended three or four funerals of comrades who died in struggle, those whose families and friends lie in the huge, stretching landscape that is the Soweto graveyard, the people who were convinced that “the blood of the martyrs waters the tree of freedom”, now pick themselves up and fight again.