Revolutionising inequality

The National Democratic Revolution (NDR) has long been put forward as a way for the ANC to fix the ills of the past and ensure a more equal society. But Dr Anthea Jeffery, specialist research consultant at the SA Institute for Race Relations, argues that full implementation
of the NDR will undermine the Constitution and betray the bright hopes of the 1994 transition.

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In the post-apartheid period, the ANC has persisted in its determination to implement a National Democratic Revolution (NDR). The ANC makes no secret of this, regularly re-affirming this objective at its five-yearly national conferences and in various other spheres.

Origins of the NDR
The ANC’s NDR has its roots in Lenin’s theory of imperialism, as articulated in 1917. According to Lenin, the living standards of the working classes in industrialised Europe were then improving rather than deteriorating (contrary to what Karl Marx had predicted) solely because the imperial powers were able to ruthlessly exploit the brown and black masses in their colonies.

However, this theory was difficult to apply in South Africa, which had gained independence from Britain as early as 1910. But in 1950 the South African Communist Party (SACP) found a way around this obstacle by stating that SA had ‘the characteristics of both an imperialist state and a colony within a single, indivisible, geographical, political, and economic entity’.

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In this ‘colonialism of a special type’, white SA was effectively an ‘imperialist state’ and black South Africa was its ‘colony’. This meant that the wealth of white South Africans had nothing to do with enterprise, skill, or technological advantage, but derived solely from the exploitation and impoverishment of black South Africans. This idea, though developed more than 60 years ago, remains central to the NDR today.

Implementation of the NDR requires a strong ‘developmental’ state and provides a continual impetus towards ever more state intervention. One of the consequences of the NDR is that the ANC does not regard itself as bound by the Constitution. Instead, various constitutional provisions have been, in practice, simply disregarded. These include parliament’s duty to hold the executive to account, the need for a new electoral system after 1999, and the prohibition of cadre deployment.

The NDR also means the ANC has no principled commitment to key constitutional safeguards, including press freedom, property rights, and an independent judiciary. The NDR promotes an increasing dependence on government. The aim is seemingly not to encourage self-reliance and economic independence, but rather to ensure that people rely on the state for money, goods, and services given to them via social grants, free housing, free basic electricity and water, free education, free health care for many and subsidised transport.

Similar thinking seems to underpin current thinking on land reform and rural development. As the Land Tenure Security Bill of 2010 shows – and the Green Paper on Land Reform demonstrates even further – the aim is no longer to build up a new generation of independent black farmers owning land. Instead, land reform beneficiaries are to be confined to leasehold ownership, while communal land tenure in former homeland areas will be retained.

In addition, those who move to the proposed new agri-villages will have nothing but temporary permits to live in and farm these settlements and will be subject to eviction by state officials if they don’t farm well enough. Far from extending landownership to many more black South Africans, the 2010 bill and the Green Paper will bring about incremental land nationalisation. There will be no big-bang approach, but the government will gradually assume ownership of ever more land while more and more South Africans find themselves without individual ownership and dependent on the state’s permission for their occupation of land on which they live or work.

Problems with implementation
The ANC understands that the collapse of the Soviet Union brought about a fundamental shift in the global environment. This has inhibited the rapid post-apartheid implementation of the NDR which it had earlier anticipated. It continually monitors the global environment and has drawn comfort from the global economic crisis which began in 2008 and the way in which this has helped to discredit free markets.

The ANC nevertheless feels the pressures arising from globalisation: the importance of export markets, the need for more international competitiveness, and the need to attract foreign investment. As the ANC recognised at Polokwane, affirmative action and BEE have ‘opened up enticing opportunities’ for its cadres, including ‘unprecedented opportunities for individual material gain’. This has led to corruption and bureaucratic indifference.

SA has a well-established market system and a strong private sector with top quality companies and high-level skills. Moreover, the ANC understands the importance of business in generating tax revenues and generally seeks to keep it on its side. The ANC’s commitment to the NDR means that the emphasis since 1994 has not been on stimulating growth but rather on bringing about the redistribution of existing wealth from whites to blacks.

This is particularly evident in BEE rules, in mining and water laws, in land reform policies, and in recurrent calls for nationalisation (which could be used to prepare the way for confiscatory taxes or other interventions, as in the mining sector).  Fortunately, there are many countervailing factors that militate against the success of the NDR.

However, there is also no room for complacency. Instead, it is vital to alert South Africans to the threats implicit in the NDR and to do more to expose its false premises and damaging outcomes.”

Contact Dr Anthea Jeffery at [email protected]

The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly.