Economic Apartheid in South Africa


AmaZulu: The Children of Heaven

Directed by Hanan Majid and Richard York

Film Review

AmaZulu is about Mr Mtshali, the inspiring principal of Velabahleke High School in Umlazi Township in Kwazulu Natal province (near Durban).

Although racial apartheid ended in 1994, economic apartheid persists to the present day. The abject poverty in Umlazi Township is a prime example. The film profiles a dozen or so students, most of whom live in simple shacks without electricity or running water.

Most come from single parent families disrupted by HIV, alcohol and other side effects of poverty. For many the midday meal at school is their only food.

As the filmmakers make clear, many of the students turn to Mtshali the principal for emotional support and parental guidance they don’t receive at home.

What I find most striking about the documentary is the number of students who talk about the importance of education for improving their circumstances. For most, their primary dream is to earn enough money to provide their mothers with a house (as opposed to a shack) to live in.

Third world poverty is always the result of third world dispossession – driving indigenous people off their land and depriving them of any means of supporting themselves. “Development” in the third world is a euphemism for confiscation and privatization of publicly owned resources.


South Africa’s Economic Apartheid

Some Children Are More Equal than Others

Stefan Gottfried (2015)

Film Review

This film is about de facto segregation in South African schools – a major factor in making South African more unequal (two rich people control more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population) than when schools were first “de-racialized” with the end of apartheid in 1994.

At present South African schools are divided by parental status and income, rather than race. Urban professionals send their children to “English” public schools in the cities. In contrast, poor township residents have no choice but to send their kids to free Bantu schools. Township students are denied entrance to “English” schools – they are always “full” – even when parents can pay the substantial school fees. Owing to officials’ fears white parents will take their kids off to private schools, the latter are never turned away.

In “English” schools, 98% of students complete high school and 80% go on to complete a bachelor’s degree. Only 50% graduate from township schools, only 11% go on to complete a bachelor’s degree and only 1% receive a vocational qualification. These grim statistics translate into a 50% unemployment rate of black youths 18-24 and an overall illiteracy rate of 51%.

The teachers and education officials interviewed in this film blame the deplorable state of South African schools on endemic corruption. The shocking physical state of the leaky, ramshackle, toiletless township schools certainly lends credibility to this viewpoint.

South Africa’s 2012 Miners Massacre


Miners Shot Down

By Rehand Desai (2014)

Film Review

Miners Shot Down follows the Marikana Commission of Inquiry investigation into the government massacre of striking platinum miners in August 2012. Thanks to the public investigation, filmmakers gained access to secret police files and footage that totally demolishes their claim that they fired at the miners in self-defense. In total 112 miners were shot. Thirty-four of them died.

The documentary paints an extremely ugly picture of the worsening economic apartheid which followed the end of political apartheid in 1994. Prior to their 2012 strike, miners at the Lonmin platinum mine lived in abject poverty, earning an average wage of 5,000 South African rand ($US 500) a week. The 2012 strike was a wildcat strike, owing to the refusal of the corrupt Nation Union of Miners (NUM) to support miners’ demand for higher wages.

Eyewitness testimony and documentary and forensic evidence presented to the Marikana Commission leave no doubt whatsoever that orders to fire on the miners came from the highest level of government.

Among the more damning evidence is the decision by the Commissioner of Police to supply police with four mortuary vans, in addition to 4,000 rounds of ammunition. Police footage shows them ordering protesting strikers to disperse, boxing them in with razor wire and armored vehicles, demanding journalists leave and shooting down fleeing miners.

Eyewitnesses report the police repeatedly shot strikers as they were surrendering.

Following the massacre the strike lasted another four weeks, and Lonmin miners eventually won pay increases of 7-22%. The Marikana massacre prompted 100,000 miners to undertake wildcat strikes across Africa.

The Marikana Commission report, issued in June 2015, largely exonerates key government figures implicated in the massacre, and victims families plan to the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

270 miners have been charged with murder based on events at Marikana. No police officers have been charged.


Honoring the Real Nelson Mandela


In “The Mandela Barbie,” BBC journalist and investigative reporter Greg Palast’s eulogy of Nelson Mandela provides a rare breath of sanity in the media stampede to remake a legendary Marxist revolutionary into an icon of free market capitalism. According to Palast, “The ruling class creates commemorative dolls and statues of revolutionary leaders as a way to tell us their cause is won, so go home.”

Al Jazeera America also offers a fairly balanced assessment of Mandela’s accomplishments. In “Mandela Sought Balance Between Socialism and Capitalism,” Martin O’Neill and Thad Williamson acknowledge that Mandela and the African National Congress totally failed to deliver on economic provisions – freedom from poverty, genuine equality of opportunity and a fair share of national wealth – in the ANC’s 1955 Freedom Charter. They also note that despite the advent of majority rule, poverty and living standards are much worse for black South Africans under the ANC.

I frankly expected Democracy Now, the Nation, Mother Jones and other “alternative” media outlets to do a better job of distinguishing between superficial ballot box democracy and the genuine freedom that can only come from true economic democracy. Instead they were all happy to ape CNN and the New York Times in celebrating the cosmetic reforms masking the reality of brutal South African living conditions.

Naomi Klein and The Shock Doctrine

Naomi Klein has an excellent chapter on the Freedom Charter and South Africa’s worsening economic apartheid in her bestselling 2007 The Shock Doctrine. In “Born in Chains: South Africa’s Constricted Freedom,” she offers a blow by blow description of the secret negotiations between the ANC and the outgoing apartheid regime. In her view, the ANC was clearly outmaneuvered at the negotiating table. This happened in part due to political naïveté, in part due to the threat of civil war (the South African police were continuing to massacre ANC leaders and white industrialists were arming black gangs to terrorize the black townships), and in part due to the ANC’s misplaced confidence in Thabo Mbeke, a London-trained admirer of Margaret Thatcher (who would succeed Mandela as president in 1998).

The Trap of “Trickle Down” Economics

The economic package Mbeke accepted at the negotiating table contained standard “trickle down” provisions aimed at attracting foreign investment, in the hope economic benefits would “trickle down” to the black townships. Among its provisions were

  1. establishment of a private, independent (unaccountable) central bank to issue and control South Africa’s money supply. This was a classic Chicago School neoliberal move the ANC took against the advice of their economic adviser Vishnu Padayachee. When Padayachee subsequently learned that the white finance ministers from the apartheid regime would run both the central bank and the treasury, he knew the economic provisions of the Freedom Charter could never be enacted and refused to serve in the ANC government.
  2. an agreement to honor the $14 billion IMF debt the apartheid government had racked up.
  3. an agreement to sign onto the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades (GATT), the precursor to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
  4. an agreement to guarantee (and pre-pay) lifelong pensions of former white officials under the apartheid regime.

Because the apartheid regime and Mbeke minimized these economic concessions as merely “technical” and “administrative,” they received no serious examination by either the media or ANC loyalists. Only in 1994, after ANC leaders assumed positions in government, did they recognize this economic stranglehold left them with no real power.

Between 1994 and 1996, the ANC government attempted to make good on the Freedom Charter’s promises of wealth redistribution through government investment in 100,000 new homes and subsidies to connect millions of households to water, electricity and phone services. In the end, however, mounting government debt forced the ANC to raise rents and utility prices, as well as evicting families and cutting off services when poor residents couldn’t make their payments.

A Missed Opportunity

Once the threat of civil war abated, Klein feels the ANC missed a historic opportunity to launch a second liberation struggle against economic apartheid. Instead, under the neoliberal stranglehold of an independent central bank, the IMF and the WTO, the economic welfare of black South Africans steadily worsened. Instead of creating new jobs, the ANC was forced to shut down hundreds of auto plants and textile factories because of WTO rules outlawing government subsidization of manufacturing. They were also required to abide by WTO intellectual property rules which prevented them from providing generic drugs to millions of AIDS patients.

Poverty and Living Conditions Worse Under ANC

After three decades, there is no longer any doubt that neoliberal trickle down economics benefits wealthy corporations at the expense of people and always increases income inequality. South Africa is no exception. As Klein notes, the effects of economic apartheid were already brutally clear after only twelve years under a majority black government. By 2006

  • the number of South Africans living on less than $1 per day had doubled (from 2 million to 4 million) under the ANC.
  • unemployment among black south Africans had more than doubled, from 23-48%.
  • close to 1 million people had been evicted from farms under the ANC.
  • despite the 1.8 million new homes build by the ANC, 2 million black South African had lost their homes.

The Shock Doctrine is available digitally at TheShockDoctrine.pdf

Klein’s website also has links to some of the source documents she used in compiling her chapter on economic apartheid Shock Doctrine Resources

Originally published in Dissident Voice


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nominee sticker

I’m even more pleased to learn it’s been pirated by at least five Torrent download sites. None of my earlier books have been pirated, so I should be flattered, right?