South Africa’s negotiated settlement was a secret pact between white and ANC elites, which excluded the black majority who had sacrificed so much during the struggle for liberation.
So says anti-apartheid cleric Allan Boesak, who spoke to City Press in Cape Town about his new book, in which he decries former liberators who adopt the ways of their oppressors after they gain power.
“That we should negotiate was never the issue,” he said.
“But what was the basis upon which those negotiations took place?
“Why is it that they negotiated as the elites of the white establishment with the elites of the ANC, to the exclusion of the people inside the country who had been fighting the struggle?
“That was a mistake.
“The conclusions that they came to … We can see they agreed to things that were not in the interests of the vast majority of our people.
“We get political power; white people keep economic power.”
He said this negotiated settlement was sold to the ANC by Western economists and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which argued for the adoption of a neoliberal capitalist system and property ownership model, warning that the alternative was an outdated communist model which would damage the economy.
“The deal was that if we let white people keep the wealth and we embraced neoliberal capitalism, then they would open the door for a small number of people to enter at their behest into this new capitalist arrangement.
“These people have become the new black elite, whom I call the political aristocracy.”
Boesak said the price paid for the system was the high levels of inequality we see today.
“We chose a neoliberal capitalist system despite the fact that the evidence from all around the world was telling us this is not a good system.
“It is a system that demands inequalities, that thrives upon inequalities.”
Boesak, who was one of the founders of the United Democratic Front (UDF), a nonracial anti-apartheid movement that operated within the country in the 1980s, took a swipe at what he said was a biblical form of reconciliation driven by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his role as chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which he dismissed as having not been radical enough.
“South Africans wanted to get away with what I call a cheap reconciliation.
“It is reconciliation on the surface. We feel good about each other, we talk a lot about forgiveness, but we never ask what it means. What does it mean if you turn this into political and socioeconomic things?
“If you go the biblical route, like the TRC did, you ought to be much more radical because the demands of reconciliation in the Bible are radical demands.
“You cannot have reconciliation that is cheap; it has to cost somebody something.
“You cannot have reconciliation without equality because you can only have reconciliation between equals. You cannot have reconciliation without restitution.
“I am not talking about reparations, which is an arbitrary sum that somebody pays.
“I am talking restitution, returning to the one who was harmed, who was stolen from. That is restitution. It is a more radical form,” he said.
Commenting on the increase in incidents of racism across the country, Boesak said the ideal of nonracialism espoused by the founders of the post-apartheid state, and encapsulated in catchy phrases such as “the rainbow nation”, had failed because South Africans had not properly dealt with the realities of racism that still exist.
“We acted as if pronouncing that we are a rainbow nation had taken care of all our racist problems. We never had honest conversations because white people did not want to talk about their racism.”
Boesak said he was not surprised by the many acts of racism and violence prevalent today because the country had never truly confronted its racist past.
“My wife says what we have done with racism is that we have looked at it, we have declared it dead and we have buried it in graves so shallow that those ghosts arise to haunt us at the simplest and easiest provocation,” he said.
“We wanted to say racism is now all gone because we have had a TRC, but we had no acknowledgment of the depth of racism in this country.
“We have had no acknowledgment of repentance because of that.”
He said this was evident in institutions such as former whites-only schools, which had managed integration well but failed to entrench nonracialism – hence incidents such as the black hair controversy at Pretoria High School for Girls.
“You have teachers in those schools who are as racist as they were 50 years ago. Have we taken them for training?”
ON THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION
“The National Democratic Revolution is a fake revolution that rebaptises the old injustices, that simply takes power from one group to another without that power changing its nature,” he said.
“It remains an oppressive power. It remains an exploitative power. We have a revolution that pretends to be a revolution, but, actually, it is a deal that was made with the old white elites.”
ON THE ANC AND THE STATE OF THE NATION
Boesak said the struggle for a new South Africa was worth it, despite the direction the country was currently taking.
Boesak, who led the ANC in the Western Cape in the early 1990s, said he was disappointed at what the ANC, of which he is no longer a member, had become. “The people must stand up to the ANC and say: ‘You are not the organisation we recognise ourselves in.’
“Can the ANC be redeemed? I don’t know. In 2012, I had a conversation with a colleague, who asked me the same thing. I said: ‘I don’t know; maybe the ANC should just implode.’
“Now I say to myself: ‘Maybe the ANC does have it within itself, but I still need to see it.’
“What I see every day is not always as encouraging as one would like.”
Boesak did not want to join those who have openly called for President Jacob Zuma to resign, saying the problems of the ANC and the country went far deeper than that.
He was also sceptical that those lining up to replace Zuma in December were capable of addressing South Africa’s myriad issues, and said he did not believe that any current opposition party could solve the country’s problems if they took power.
ON THE CHURCH AND POLITICS
Boesak defended the church’s right to enter into politics and take positions on issues.
In 2015, when church leaders increasingly condemned Zuma and the ANC government, the president suggested that churches should stay out of politics.
“Why is Mr Zuma saying to the churches that criticise him, ‘Stay out of politics’? But as for the churches that embrace him, he loves them.
“There is always a temptation for governments, when the church speaks truth to that power, to tell the church: ‘You have no right; stay out of it.’ They can’t do that.”
ON HIS POLITICAL ROLE
Boesak (71) said he had no intention of getting back into politics, but was hoping to play a more active role in a civil society movement that would bring South Africans together and have them discuss how to take the country forward, just as the UDF did in the 1980s.
In his book, titled Pharaohs on Both Sides of the Blood-Red Waters, Boesak reflects on conversations he has had with #FeesMustFall activists in South Africa, #BlackLivesMatter activists in the US and Palestinians fighting for the recognition of their state.
He outlines how, often in struggles, former liberators become oppressors after gaining political power.
ON HIS CONVICTION AND SENTENCE
Boesak was convicted in 1999 for misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds.
He spent a year in Pollsmoor Prison before being released in 2001 and pardoned.
He still believes what he went through was a travesty of justice.
“Not everything was what it seemed then, and the travesty of justice that transpired is probably part of the trauma we are dealing with right now.
“What happened to me is not important; that I have survived all of that is far more important,” he said.
Boesak, who has spent much of his time lecturing abroad, will be going to Yale University in the US in October to promote his book and engage in a series of lectures and conversations with academics, students, the religious community and civil society about common struggles.