Julian Kunnie. Is Apartheid Really Dead? Pan Africanist Working-Class Cultural Critical Perspectives. Boulder, Col. and Oxford: Westview Press, 2000. xv + 272 pp. $35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8133-3758-6.
Reviewed by Alan G. Cobley (Department of History, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus, Barbados)
Published on H-SAfrica (December, 2000)
It's the Same Old Story in the New South Africa
It's the Same Old Story in the New South Africa
In the international media and in the popular perception world-wide, the negotiated settlement which brought apartheid in South Africa officially to an end in the early 1990s was portrayed and celebrated as a triumph of the human spirit over evil, a perception sanctified by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Nelson Mandela and F.W. De Klerk - the men generally acknowledged to be the key figures in the process. This perception was also evident in the avalanche of books published in the immediate aftermath of the transition to black majority rule in 1994, almost all of which praised, in varying degrees, the manner in which the transition had been effected. The titles of some of these works are indicative of the general tone: Tomorrow is Another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa's Negotiated Revolution; The Small Miracle: South Africa's Negotiated Settlement; 1990-1994:The Miracle of a Freed Nation; Anatomy of a Miracle: The End of Apartheid and the Birth of the New South Africa. While it was possible to detect some notes of caution or disquiet in this literature about such issues as continuing ethnic division and the severe social and economic imbalances which remained to be addressed in the country, all in all the international and scholarly consensus in the mid-1990s was that we should feel hopeful for the future of 'the New South Africa'.
Since that time, however, the notes of caution and disquiet have been sounding increasingly loudly and the hopeful mood has begun to dissipate. Examples of growing concern about the direction in which South Africa is headed include the growing scholarly debate on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission , the widespread concerns voiced in the local and international media about the Government's handling of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the anguished discussions about the implications for South Africa of the crisis over ownership of land in neighbouring Zimbabwe. For those who have not heard these critical voices, and who still bask in the sunny optimism of the mid-1990s, Julian Kunnie's book may serve as a corrective.
The book is divided into six chapters, bracketed by a short Preface and an 'Epilogue'. In the first chapter, modestly titled 'A Comprehensive History of the South African Struggle', Kunnie, using an argument borrowed largely from Magubane, seeks to outline the means by which European invasion and conquest led to the establishment of a system of settler colonialism in South Africa, and how this was then refined and perpetuated from the late nineteenth century as a form of racial capitalism. Critical to his argument from a moral standpoint is the unbroken history of black resistance to this imposition, a discussion of which forms the central part of the chapter. Despite its title, this chapter focuses largely on the apartheid era, and its main purpose is to show an essential continuity between this period and earlier phases of black struggle against white settler power. In a brief concluding section the argument set out in the next chapter (and in much of the rest of the book) is telegraphed by the inclusion of a brief discussion of the ending of apartheid and the post-apartheid era up to the year 2000 - or what the author calls 'the 1990s Counterrevolution by Capitalist and Neocolonialist Forces'.
The second chapter, entitled, 'Why Apartheid Changed Character in 1990', elaborates on the case outlined in Chapter One that there is an essential continuity between apartheid and the 'post-apartheid' era South Africa: "...the changes that have occurred since 1990 ... were not geared toward empowerment of the black working class majority. Rather, they were designed to maintain the hegemony of capital and white ownership of the land and economy of South Africa"(p.84). He seeks to substantiate this case through what he terms a 'Black Consciousness Critique' of the transition process in the late 1980s and 1990s.
In the third chapter the author develops his case through a discussion of what he describes as the 'Neocolonial Political Economy' of the 'new' South Africa. He focuses especially on the role of big business, and the ways in which he feels the black elite has been coopted and incorporated into the capitalist economy in order to legitimate that role. Individuals such as the former ANC General Secretary Cyril Ramaphosa, former COSATU leaders Jay Naidoo and Sam Shilowa, among other members of the 'Black nouveau riche'(p.103) are singled out for special condemnation. Against this background Kunnie denounces the Government's Growth, Employment and Redistribution Programme (GEAR) as 'a ruse', which, he says, is "encouraged by global capital because it protects the interests of the conglomerates and wealthy whites, while conveying the specious impression to the world that the new South African government is committed to the grassroots Black working class"(p.121).
Chapter Four is an attempt to place South Africa in a wider African perspective. This the author does, firstly, by asserting the essential congruence of South Africa's historical experiences with those of other African countries. Secondly, country by country and region by region, he argues that all African countries - "with the possible exception of Libya"(p.168) - are locked into the same neo-colonialist cycle of impoverishment and dependency, and that the notion of independence from European colonial rule in Africa has been largely a sham.
The last two chapters in the book take something of a philosophical leap as the author, having identified (to his own satisfaction, at least) the roots causes of the problems facing Africa in general and South Africa in particular, seeks to lay out a Black radical agenda for the future. In Chapter Five, he argues that a pivotal role must be played by "revolutionary Pan-Africanism"in the struggle against colonialism and neocolonialism on the African continent: "The principal solution and weapon of defense against this colonial legacy is the establishment of a Pan-African working class-based form of government that discards the strictures and divisions of the colonial boundaries that have perforated Africa"(p.179). He also argues that a "united Black front" involving Africans of the diaspora as well as those resident in the continent is required in the struggle "to arrest the course of underdevelopment" and "to combat Black oppression worldwide". In the course of this discussion Nelson Mandela is among those African leaders who are condemned for "egotistical inclinations", the other named examples being Sekou Toure and Laurent Kabila.
Finally, in Chapter Six, Kunnie returns to the case of South Africa to consider 'Black Union Praxis and Worker Culture: Revolutionary Prospects and Limitations'. Whilst conceding that both in South Africa and globally, the prevailing climate is hostile to the development of radical movements, and that "there is no quick road to socialism in Azania" he argues that "we radicals" should commit themselves to a long-term strategy involving "the cultivation of the revolutionary process"(p. 228) The revolutionary movement must be built in South Africa, he declares (echoing Archie Mafeje), through a process of "conscientizing"the rural peasantry and of "reconscientizing"the Black working class. This can be done either by using "the putative 'democratic space' created by the post-apartheid dispensation", or by "an underground strategy" to ensure that the actions and purposes of "the revolutionary Black movement in Azania ... are hidden from the bourgeoisie" (p. 219). In these scenarios Kunnie accords a special role to the trade unions, to "indigenous working-class culture" and to "indigenous African womanist" (as opposed to "Eurofeminist") struggle. The ultimate objective of this strategy is "a liberated Socialist Republic of Azania and a unified and integrated socialist Africa" (pp. 251-252).
In the 'Epilogue' he concludes portentously:
"The global capitalist system prevails, certainly today and perhaps for a short time tomorrow. We continue to live in what Cornel West refers to as 'the age of Europe'. Will the new millennium become an 'age of the indigenous people?'. We certainly hope so. No singular continent or people can dominate our beautiful but strife-torn world for ever. The question, though, is: When? Only time will tell"(p. 261).
The weakest section of this book is undoubtedly the first chapter. Kunnie is not an historian (both his first degree and his doctorate are in theology) and he has relied exclusively on a limited range of (mostly rather elderly) secondary sources to compile his over-simplified and error-strewn "Comprehensive History". Here are a few examples: the complex circumstances surrounding the 'Great Trek' are reduced to the following bald (and inaccurate) statement: "In the Cape, the Dutch invaders were followed by the British colonizers, who formally annexed the Cape in 1806. The Dutch subsequently left the Cape in 1836 to penetrate the Southern African hinterland ..." (p.6); A.B. Xuma (not A.P. Xuma as written here) is wrongly identified as a founder of the South African Native National Congress in 1912 (p.12); there was no "Bantu Self-Government Act of 1953 [which] created the Bantustan programme" (p.19) - presumably this is a reference to the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act of 1959. Only ignorance can explain the most glaring errors, such as this astounding statement about African resistance to the Masters and Servants Act of 1856: "Saul Solomon was one such working-class resister who campaigned vigorously for the defense of Black workers' rights..." (p.5). A quick check of the reference, which is to Jack and Ray Simons classic book, Class and Colour in South Africa 1850-1950 reveals that the author, evidently with no background knowledge to guide him, has simply misunderstood their statement that Solomon "championed the workers' cause in the assembly" (p.30). Far from being an African working-class hero, Saul Solomon, was, in fact, a leading white liberal member of the Cape Parliament and sometime owner of the Cape Argus newspaper. (He was later bought out by Cecil Rhodes.) Aside from such overt errors, it is remarkable that the author could have relied on the third edition of T.R.H. Davenport's Modern History of South Africa as his main source on the history of the ICU, or that much of his information on Black working-class women's struggle comes from venerable books by Ernest Harsch and Mary Benson rather than the more recent and much more pertinent work of Julia Wells or Cheryl Walker. It is worthy of note that both here and in subsequent chapters, the author -although he is himself South African - repeatedly draws on examples from the United States to support many of his point about white racism, the oppression of indigenous peoples, and the nature of the Black radical struggle. This may be seen as an attempt to make his argument more accessible to an African-American audience, or might, less charitably, be seen as an indication of the context in which he is most comfortable.
There may be those who feel it is perhaps unkind to haul Kunnie over the coals for displaying his limited knowledge of South African history. This is not, after all, intended primarily to be a history book. However, consider the following comment contained in an endnote to Chapter Two, in which the author refers to the work of at least a dozen (White) historians of South Africa (ranging from Davenport and Thompson to Bozzoli, Bundy and O'Meara): "A second problem is the peculiarly Eurocentric character of many of these texts, in which Black sources are either seldom mentioned or nonexistent, presuming somehow that the essence of intellectual reflection on South Africa derives from white scholars, a flagrant contradiction considering that Africans cannot be marginalized in any discussion of the future of Africa !"(note 10, p. 85). I would suggest that the author cannot afford to be quite so self-righteous, given his dependence on the work of these same scholars for his own historical perspective.
The strongest sections of the book are in Chapters Two and Three, in which Kunnie writes with obvious and often compelling passion about the period of the 1990s. The negotiations leading to the elections of 1994 are portrayed both as a betrayal and a bitter defeat for the majority of Black South Africans, a characterisation which appears increasingly sustainable as the author details the policy failures of the ANC-led government since 1994. His central charge, that "for most of the Black masses in South Africa, life is not getting better"(p. 55), is difficult to refute. The cost of living has continued to rise steadily, while wages have failed to keep pace; unemployment does remain unacceptably high; land redistribution has been painfully slow and limited in effect; the prosperity enjoyed by the Black middle class has not been felt by the Black majority. While relatively little has been done to roll back white privilege, there are a growing number of tales of corruption among government officials, and of members of the Black political directorate living the high life at the taxpayers' expense. On the other hand, the government can claim some limited success in areas such as the entrenchment of workers rights, the restructuring of the education system, in house building, in the provision of primary health care, and in the extension of basic amenities such as sanitation and clean water supply. As the 1999 elections showed, there remains a broad consensus in South Africa that there is no credible alternative to the ANC government, but there is a growing sense of impatience among many of its rank and filesupporters with its failure to deliver in key areas.
By contrast, the latter section of the book, with its long discourse on the development of a revolutionary strategy and its rather forlorn-sounding exhortation to the Black left to concentrate its efforts on "preparation for the consummation of the Azanian socialist revolution, even if it takes the next half century to achieve"(p. 226) has an almost romantic, anachronistic feel about it. This is not helped by the examples of socialist societies Africans are exhorted to emulate - Maoist China, Cuba and Libya. Kunnie seems to have had a slight sense of this himself, although he tries to nip any such unrevolutionary thinking in the bud: "The Black left needs to stand firmly by these principles notwithstanding their 'unpopularity' or seeming anachronistic irrelevance now , so that the truth of these solid principles may be borne out in the future" (p. 226). No doubt the Arizona desert (Kunnie is Acting Director of Africana Studies at the University of Arizona) is a good vantage point from which to contemplate such questions of revolutionary purity.
For me the most glaring omission in this book is the absence of any discussion of HIV/AIDS, surely one of the most vital issues facing South Africa today. With the infection rate already said to exceed 4.5 million people in the country, many economists are predicting catastrophic effects on the country's development in the 21st century. It would be interesting to hear how this issue would be tackled as part of a 'Black revolutionary strategy', but sadly Kunnie is silent on the point. The disease is mentioned only once, in parenthesis, as a women's health issue, along with reproductive rights and teenage pregnancy (p. 239). It is curious that the issue of HIV/AIDS is almost a taboo among radical Pan-Africanists, perhaps because there is concern that discussions of African cultural and sexual practices as they pertain to the spread of HIV/AIDS carry racist overtones, or because there is a feeling that the whole issue is part of wider Western capitalist plot to marginalize Africa. For whatever the reason, the issue which is rapidly becoming the central social, economic and political fact impacting on South Africa's plans for development is not mentioned here.
One other critical note: there are times when the discussion in this book is overburdened with rhetorical flourishes. My particular favourite comes from Chapter Two: "Nevertheless, the hand of history was shaking the corridors of the apartheid machine," (p.62).
Overall, it is evident that I consider this to be a deeply flawed book. Nevertheless it will be of use to all those who wish to go beyond the cosy media consensus to seek to understand the social, economic and political dynamics which are shaping the 'new South Africa.' In particular, as the euphoria of the first 'non-racial' election of 1994 fades and the rose-tinted spectacles of 'reconciliation' are set aside, it is clear that many intractable problems remain to be tackled. The central message of this book is that all those who care about the future of South Africa must direct their attention to these problems urgently. I doubt if many observers would agree with Kunnie's view that the 'new' South Africa is essentially no better than the old; yet it cannot be denied that South Africans still has a very long way to go in the struggle to establish a truly equitable society.
 Allistair Sparks, Tomorrow is Another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa's Negotiated Revolution (Wynburg; Sandton: Struik Books, 1994); S. Friedman and D. Atkinson (eds), South African Review 7: The Small Miracle: South Africa's Negotiated Settlement (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1994) ; The Sunday Times 1990-1994:The Miracle of a Freed Nation (Capetown: Don Nelson and Sunday Times, 1994); Pattie Waldmeir, Anatomy of a Miracle: The End of Apartheid and the Birth of the New South Africa (New York and London: W.W.Norton and Co., 1997).
 See for example Anthea Jeffrey, The Truth about the Truth Commission (Johannesburg: South African Institute of Race Relations, 1999).
 Jack and Ray Simons, Class and Colour in South Africa 1850-1950 (London: International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa, 1983), p.30.
 Julia Wells, We Now Demand ! The History of Women's Resistance to Pass Laws in South Africa (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1993); Cheryl Walker, Women and Resistance in South Africa (London: Onyx Press, 1982).
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Alan G. Cobley. Review of Kunnie, Julian, Is Apartheid Really Dead? Pan Africanist Working-Class Cultural Critical Perspectives.
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