The Blanket

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Pragmatic Politics


Liam O Ruairc • April 28, 2004

This week marks ten years of ANC rule in South Africa. The South African ‘transition’ is often hailed here as an example of a successful ‘peace process’, a model for our own ‘conflict resolution’.

But, should we really be looking at South Africa as an example? Who are the winners and losers of the South African ‘peace process’ and ‘transition’? According to the Chronic Poverty Research Centre at the University of the Western Cape, the average income of black households dropped by 19 per cent from 1995 to 2000, while over the same period the average white household income grew 15 per cent. Absolute poverty levels increased from 20 per cent in 1995 to 28 per cent in 2000. 45 per cent of the population of South Africa survives with less than two dollars per day. In ten years, social spending has increased by 35 per cent, while interests and dividends of foreign investors have grown fourfold over the same period.

While the incomes of the black majority have been reduced, the corporate sector has been on the gravy train. Corporate tax rates were cut from 48 per cent in 1994 to 30 per cent by 1999. The official jobless rate grew from 16 per cent in 1995 to 30 per cent last year. However, when discouraged job-seekers are added in, the actual unemployment rate now stands at 42 per cent nationwide and more than 80 per cent in some rural areas.

The process was accelerated from 1996 when the ANC adopted a World Bank plan for South Africa's economy which, among other things, involved commercialising and privatising government services. Many millions of blacks have now lost access to essential services, such as running water, electricity and telephones, because they cannot afford to pay the charges set by the private corporations. (sources: Le Monde, 27 April, New Zealand Herald, 20 April)

It is not the hopes of South Africa's impoverished black majority which have been fulfilled by ‘democracy’ but those of South Africa's corporations, global investors and the white minority thanks to the fact that the ANC had adopted ‘pragmatic politics’ towards the business elite. Not only that:

“A new black elite has emerged in South Africa, mostly from the ranks of the liberation movement - people who were able to use their political pedigree and connections to amass vast amounts of wealth. Trade union leaders have become instant millionaires, setting up business consortia in the name of union members but then reaping all the financial benefits at the expense of the workers.” (New York Times, 27 April)

Now why is this relevant here? Because the local version of the ANC, Sinn Fein, is adopting similar stance. Recently, the Irish Times described Gerry Adams’ presence at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce business breakfast in the Burlington Hotel in the following terms:

"Displaying the more complex colours emerging in Sinn Fein's attitude to business, Adams's background message was that his party understands the need for pragmatism. Asked about public-private partnerships, he acknowledged that Martin McGuiness had reluctantly accepted the need for private investment while in power in Northern Ireland. "Well, we are against them" he said. "Having said that, Martin McGuiness, as education minister, faced the reality that he would either have no schools or an involvement in a qualified way with private finance, went for it. So I suppose you could argue that that is the emergence of pragmatic politics." Equally, Sinn Fein's acceptance of service charges in Sligo was justified by Adams, despite all of the party's railings nationally against such bills. ... "Our position is against it. But in terms of the actual practicalities of working out those matters, as part of local government, the party made compromises on it", he told the gathering. On taxation, Adams offered soothing words that meant little: "I am reluctant to say that we would do A or we would do B. We are not in principle against tax increases, but we have no plans to introduce them. We just think that there should be a far, far better way of doing business." (The Irish Times, 24 April 2004)

That is pure Thabo Mbeki speak from our own Nelson Mandela.

The point here is not to fire cheap shots at the Provisionals, but to be prepared for the nasty consequences of ‘pragmatic politics’. The end of racial apartheid, without drastic economic changes only resulted in social apartheid. More than a century ago, James Connolly warned that pure political changes without radical social and economic reorganisation of society would only be ‘national recreancy’, the efforts of Republicans would be ‘in vain’.

Organisations are now beginning to emerge in the black communities across South Africa to challenge the ANC. Typically they are organising around community service issues, such as housing, water and electricity, and are often met with the same repression the white minority once used against black activists. If Stormont once again goes up and running, similar struggles can be expected here around issues such as water rates or PFI. Rather than unconstructively complaining about “sell out”, serious activists should concentrate on preparing themselves to wage those coming battles and learn from the South African experience.







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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

29 April 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Pragmatic Politics
Liam O Ruairc


Hard Times
Brian Mór


Every Picture Tells A Story
Anthony McIntyre


Demonizing Will Backfire
Sean Mc Manus


Tangled Wed Which Stretches from the New Lodge to Iraq
Eamonn McCann


Glossary of the Iraqi Occupation

Paul de Rooij


The Letters page has been updated.


23 April 2004


It Hasn't Gone Away You Know
Anthony McIntyre


Brian Mór


We're on the One Road
Tommy McKearney


Easter Week in Derry and the Lazarus Complex
Eamon Sweeney


Time for the Dead

Mick Hall


POWs and the Challenge of Partnership
Aoife Rivera Serrano


'A Real Sensuous Pleasure'
Liam O Ruairc


The Letters page has been updated.




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