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Source: Butler 29.

Table 2. National election results 1994

Party name

% of vote

African National Congress

National Party

Inkatha Freedom Party

Democratic Party





Source: Butler 108.

The final draft of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) appeared in early March 1994 and immediately became the official ANC campaigning set of policies (for lack of any meaningful alternative), supported by COSATU (Jay Naidoo) and key elements of the SACP and the Mass Democratic Movement. After the ANC won the election, Nelson Mandela proclaimed the RDP the cornerstone of the incoming Government of National Unity. A pre-election brochure-like document entitled A Basic Guide to the Reconstruction and Development Programme (or ‘RDP Guide’) vowed not to be “full of empty promises designed to win votes at an election.” It stated bluntly:

In all aspects of our society there is great inequality - in schooling, health, welfare, transport, housing and employment. Some people have all they need while many have nothing at all. We are one of the most unequal countries in the world. Our economy has benefitted a minority and very large white dominated companies control most of it. […] Some people argue that we must first strengthen our economy and only then can we provide money to develop our poorer, disadvantaged communities. The RDP says NO to this. Of course, we need our economy to grow. We need to produce more. But we also need to start now to wipe out poverty. Our people can wait no longer. Building the economy and developing the country must happen side by side. The RDP spells out how to do this. (RDP Guide)

Although it certainly avoided some of the politically and economically more sensitive pronouncements (i.e. explicit references to nationalization), it claimed to take

as its starting point the Freedom Charter clause: “The people shall govern”. […] The economy is undemocratic and many people are excluded from participation… Mineral rights should be returned to the democratic government to allow open access to mineral resources. This must be done in full consultation with all stake holders. […] The new constitution should also permit the use of property to be regulated when this is in the public interest. […] Rich consumers should be able to subsidize the poor so that they can have access to services. (RDP Guide)

And not least, the document summarized the promises of the ANC election campaign:

Our central goal for reconstruction and development is to create a strong and balanced economy which will...

• end poverty

• create jobs and meet the basic needs of our people

• address the structural problems of the economy

• build the economy in South Africa and Southern Africa and integrate South Africa into the world economy

• protect worker rights

• develop the human resources of all our people

• end all discrimination, e.g. that based on race, sex, disability, religion and language

• make the economy democratic by involving all stakeholders including trade unions and small business in an open and transparent process of economic decision making. (RDP Guide)
A glance at this short selection of RDP goals provides a hint of the inherent contradictions of the program. As especially the post-Cold War era teaches us, the integration of a given economy into the globalizing world economy and the protection of worker rights, for one thing, are not mutually supportive – usually quite the opposite, particularly when it comes to developing (as opposed to developed) economies. Even though shortly after the election victory, Mandela commented that the RDP contained “not a word about nationalization” (qtd. in Bond 90), the ‘Vision and Objectives’ section read:

In restructuring the public sector to carry out national goals, the […] democratic government must consider: increasing the public sector in strategic areas through, for example, nationalisation, […] and reducing the public sector in certain areas in ways that enhance efficiency, advance affirmative action and empower the historically disadvantaged. (RDP)

In a statement that seems fairly bold even in the company of other RDP pronouncements, the 1994 Election Manifesto of the African National Congress (or Election Manifesto) pledged to build the New South Africa upon “a constitution and Bill of Rights which guarantee human rights for all, including the right to a minimum standard of life.” To help achieve that, the intention to increase public expenditure was declared.38 In respect to housing, it stated: “A roof over one's head and reasonable living conditions are not a privilege. They are a basic right for every human being” (Election Manifesto, emphasis added). The ANC thereby unequivocally proclaimed decent housing a universal human right (notwithstanding the fact that such statements are often emotionally charged, which can be interpreted by some as undermining their being reasonable). The document also acknowledged the existence of 7 million squatters and homeless people and went on to declare:

We have calculated that, within five years, the new government can:

• build one million homes;

• provide running water and flush toilets to over a million families;

• electrify 2.5-million rural and urban homes (Election Manifesto)

In addition to that, the RDP spelled out five-year targets to alleviate and resolve the long-term crises across all society’s basic sectors: universal primary health care and social welfare, a massive educational initiative, hundreds of thousands of jobs, full reproductive rights for women, and, perhaps most significantly, the redistribution of 30 percent of good agricultural land.39 According to Bond, these were all feasible (95).

Before long, various elements and figures within and outside the ANC government started undermining the implementation of redistributive efforts as prescribed by the RDP. One of the more visible forms of dissent was, for example, when Gatsha Buthelezi (leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party) mockingly redefined the acronym as ‘Rumours, Dreams and Promises’. Already in June 1994, the once die-hard communist and one of the SACP’s main ideologues, new Housing Minister Joe Slovo40 announced that the “government cannot condone squatting” – which leads one to believe that he must have oddly misread the RDP promise of squatters’ rights. As Bond (91) bitterly comments, people like former Law and Order Minister Hernus Kriel (then Western Cape Premier) and KwaZulu-Natal Premier Frank Mdlalose (Inkatha) alongside numerous national-level and local politicians, who never actually read the RDP book, publicly paid lip service to the programme. And so did executives of large parastatals like Armscor41 and Eskom42. In an interview (Mail and Guardian), Eskom CEO Allan Morgan rejected the cross-subsidization from rich to poor consumers (explicitly recommended by the RDP), and in yet another example of rebuttal, Labour Minister Tito Mboweni denied to The Economist (before the elections) that the RDP mentioned minimum wages and nationalization at all.

All Things to All People

The RDP simply became all things to all people. Neoliberals endorsed it because of its undeniable adherence to fiscal discipline, especially unnecessarily strict limits on state expenditure in general. The document certainly contained ideas that are traditionally perceived as ‘right-wing’, for example the promotion of competitiveness in international markets and an independent Reserve Bank (certainly not an uncontroversial issue). Yet, although it did not pose a fundamental challenge to the market per se, it was more centrist (corporatist) than conservative, in that it presumed that when the market fails, the state ought to step in, in order to facilitate access to basic services and goods and, if necessary, to force capital to follow long-term national interests. At the same time, the activist wing of the SACP was defending the policy blueprint as conducive to the success of the socialist project. There were, they claimed, mutually supportive mechanisms within the RDP capable of bringing about two interrelated processes: ‘decommodification’ (i.e. the removal from the market) and ‘destratification’ (making universal) of basic needs goods. Historically, those were themes with deep roots in the South Africa’s social struggles. Phil Dexter, a leading SACP theoretician, argued: “We need to find ways to ensure alternatives to capitalist markets; […] by decommodifying certain resources and services. […] Housing, for instance, could be provided through associations and offered as non-sellable property rather than rented or privately-owned units” (Bond 93). Socialist housing experts viewed such decommodification of even a social-democratic solution to the low-income housing crisis. Embedded in the policy document were, as a potential to be fulfilled, socialist reforms. The RDP reflected the several decades of concrete struggles for basic needs demands in its emphasis upon the importance of vibrant civil society. Besides the social movements, there were also specific foundations upon which the progressives on the Left could rely when trying to reorganize their country’s most ailing sectors: a new Housing Bank which could ensure affordable loans through combining state subsidies with pension funds and other social housing mechanisms, plus the prohibition by the RDP of foreign loans in areas where social policy did not directly contribute to foreign exchange earnings – an instrument for keeping the World Bank (the main enemy of redistributive policies, with its structural adjustment programmes) at bay. (92-95)

Talk Is Cheap

Since champions of big business and bureaucrats alike felt the need to verbalize their affection for the RDP as part of their PR and survival technique respectively, the words reconstruction and development were increasingly viewed with suspicion in the critically thinking circles. Enthusing over it while doing the exact opposite of what the RDP instructed became the norm (within the government, gradually, as well). Initially, placing of the position of an RDP coordinator in the Office of the President could have been welcomed as a victory for progressive politics. However, Jay Naidoo (until 1993 general secretary of COSATU), the new minister (without portfolio) supervising the Reconstruction and Development Programme implementation, though he was enjoying the prestige of Mandela’s office, did not command the respect of colleagues and bureaucrats across ministerial boundaries. With the assistance of technocrats (such as André Roux) associated with the ANC’s neoliberal wing (the bastion of which was the Development Bank of South Africa), Naidoo set out to translate the RDP into the government’s first formal declaration, the White Paper. With a mandate from the ANC like his – to ‘send the right signals’ to the markets – his task boiled down to pleasing big capital, mostly by getting good reviews from Business Day. The White Paper actually represents what Bond calls the first ‘train-wreck’: a document certainly pleasing to the markets, but not solving (in fact, hardly mentioning) the durable problems of the economy. The problems included: the drain of capital abroad, enduring racial and gender inequality, insufficient buying power among the African majority, high costs of production due to apartheid planning, the excess capacity in many industrial sectors, and, significantly, the structural bias of production towards luxury goods, as opposed to basic needs goods. The White Paper promised to outline strategies for implementation within the framework provided by the ‘Base Document’ (as the paper referred to the RDP) and while it did not directly contradict the RDP, its emphasis on procedures and methods led to the original policies’ waning in the process. Although praised by the business press, Naidoo was promptly criticized by COSATU, according to which the White Paper would “reduce the RDP to no more than a social net to cushion the impact of job losses and poverty” (99). Naidoo warned the critics not to be too simplistic about the defense of fiscal discipline and maintained that it was a sort of neutral tool, waiting to be reclaimed from the likes of Margaret Thatcher and used for the pursuit of redistributionist ends. The problem with this interpretation was that a clear blueprint paving the way to a more just society was significantly absent and out of the way of drastic measures, such as tariff cuts and deindustrialization of whole sectors (notably textiles and autos) in the name of competitiveness. (96-100)

“Mass-based organizations will exercise essential checks and balances on the power of Government to act unilaterally,” declared Section 7.6 of the White Paper (101), and it was one of a few commitments true to the original spirit of the RDP – alas, it was subsequently turned on its head. More specifically, 20 million rand was allocated for Naidoo’s office to set up a fund to support independent civic organizing, such as environmentalist, labour and women’s groups, which sum was then seized by Roelf Meyer, NP Minister of Constitutional Development and one of the crucial partakers in the constitutional negotiations. Meyer was someone who Bond nicknamed a ‘guru of elite-pacting’, one of a limited number (several hundred) of leaders with an experience in transitional negotiations. Because the transitional talks took place at the national level, provinces and municipalities suffered a deficit of elite-pacting. In most cases, the building of capacity sufficient for transition took many months at the provincial level, which fact caused a significant delay of the transfer of powers from the national to the local level. At the same time, the national-level negotiators were anxious about the inclusion of grassroots movements, which could potentially incite confrontations and hinder compromises. Symptomatically, Minister Meyer did not want to risk upsetting of the balance of power by militant populist forces from within the civil society, and so he used the R20 million to run the Operation Masakhane – basically an advertising campaign aiming to persuade township residents to pay their bills – a campaign doomed to failure.43 A multi-million operation like Masakhane could not possibly hope to cure the deep-rooted aversion among township inhabitants to spending their declining pay on inferior services and matchbox housing (not even with Desmond Tutu as one of the campaign’s faces). Masakhane actually seemed to be doing disservice to its own cause, for the publicity stunts coincided with a 15 percent decline in rate payments.44 Because no serious compromise between the local-level ANC and apartheid government was brokered between 1990 and 1994, old apartheid officials managed to retain residual power for some time.45 Seeing no real change in the townhall and no substantial improvements in their lives, less than a third of potential voters showed up to vote in the country’s November 1995 local elections (in stark contrast to the 1994 first democratic national elections, when more than 90 percent of the electorate participated). Later, when the neoliberal cost-recovery principles and privatization programmes were applied and top-down budget strangulation intensified, many (in fact, circa a half of) municipal governments were deemed insolvent and targeted for closure. (101-106, 108)

Gazetted in late 1995 were two more attempts by Naidoo’s office at intra-governmental coordination, namely the Urban Development Strategy (UDS) and Rural Development Strategy (RDS). By that time, the World Bank-affiliated staff had got onboard of the drafting team – three of the four authors had neoliberal background.46 These documents followed suit in contradicting the RDP by pedestaling buyer affordability, i.e. letting residents’ solvency decide the scope of service provision (a prime example of neoliberal economic logic), consequently reducing the basic infrastructural rights outlined in the Reconstruction and Development Programme (access to energy, water and sanitation), instead of making good the promise of acceptable services at affordable rates. Also, for example, the Rural Development Strategy suggested that public works programmes “offer a fairly low wage that ensures that only the poorest benefit”, while the RDP stressed that these programmes “must not abuse labour standards nor create unfair competition” (110).47

No Land

As for the RDP goal of redistributing 30 percent of good farmland, it was admitted in private papers and discussions within the Ministry of Agriculture and Land that the department was only aiming at 6 percent before the end of the decade. The land restitution process lagged behind any reasonable schedule – almost 30,000 claims piled up by late 1998 but only a minuscule portion had been decided. The UDS and RDS also reiterated the familiar chant of acceptability of foreign loans, although the provision of rural services could not qualify for foreign borrowing under the RDP (which postulated that any sector applying for foreign loan-financing should demonstrate the capacity to earn foreign exchange) (109). The World Bank involvement in ANC rural policy-making in 1992-1994, which was examined in detail by Oxford sociologist Gavin Williams, exhibited the familiar ‘scenario’ pattern, in that the WB paid a think-tank called Land and Agricultural Policy Centre for tens of reports in order to win the land administrators over. The resultant policy adopted by South African minister Hanekom closely resembled the disastrous framework that the Bank applied in Zimbabwe, setting off a downward spiral there, leading to the infamous Zimbabwean land grab dramas in late 1990s. The policy became known as ‘willing buyer-willing seller’, which is exactly what it was: an entrenchment of property owners’ rights regardless of historic inequities and discrimination, aiming to strangle any chance of mass redistribution programs.48 The free-market approach has time and again proved unable to correct the huge historic imbalances and play a meaningful part in the distribution of land as expected from the policy-makers by their constituents, and as of necessity has led to a crisis of delivery, resulting in the disillusionment of the masses of the rural poor (173).

Foreign Debt Blunder

One of the recurrent questions of capital importance during the transitional years was: what would be done about the foreign debt which under the apartheid regime rose to more than $20 billion? A 1991 ANC handbook answered: “Morally, it could be argued that this debt, used to bolster apartheid, should be used to assist economic reconstruction” (176). The handbook argued for repaying the foreign debt to a special reconstruction fund instead of the commercial banks. However, in October 1993 the ineptness of the South African negotiators (Reserve Bank officials joined by ANC foreign debt review team) led the country into a very disadvantageous arrangement over a repayment of $5 billion withheld since 1985. In effect, South Africa was required to make a down payment of $500 million in 1994 at an extraordinarily high interest rate. When it tried to renegotiate the deal, it was already too late. In a series of agreements that ensued, the country was maneuvered into repaying most of its hard currency debt in the next eight years. For a newborn democracy that emerged from a decade of intense internal turmoil, that would place a great constraint upon the balance of payments. Between late 1994 and early 1998, a formidable coalition of NGOs and church and labor groups, including COSATU and SACP (later institutionalized as the Jubilee 2000 South Africa) protested the apartheid debt repayment and instead called for rapider reparations for the previously discriminated. Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, however, refused to question the foreign banks’ pre-1994 involvement in South Africa, thereby signaling, as it were, that the financial sanctions, which were mustered by the ANC and directed against the late apartheid regime, were a sham. And while the World Bank was still trying to cater to the populist elements within the liberation movement, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had already negotiated an $850 million loan to South Africa, which actually became embodied in the very first act of South Africa’s interim government (Transitional Executive Council). The terms of the loan, leaked in early 1994, included scrapping of import surcharges, a decrease in the government deficit and a drop in wages across the board. In a closing remark, Bond bluntly posits that in a just world, the repayment of the apartheid foreign debt would be rejected by any self-respecting national liberation movement. (176-178)

To sum up, the directives from the RDP that were contradicted or ignored during the ANC’s first term in power, concerned, among others, the following areas:

  • very low public works payments (related to tasks, thus technically not qualifying as wages) substituting for living wages in the construction sector

  • less than 1 percent of land was redistributed

  • the promise of minimum standards for housing was abandoned

  • ‘lifeline’ municipal water (cross-subsidized) was discarded in favor of full payment of operation costs

  • rural electrification slowed down because of hindered cross-subsidization

  • publicly owned passenger transport was replaced by tendered contracts

  • there was a shift from state to individual responsibility for retirement resources

  • references to nationalization were ignored in subsequent policy documents (notably Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy – GEAR) (115-116)

To be fair, some major progressive initiatives found their way into government pronouncements. The ANC promised:

  • a strong commitment to affirmative action in the civil service

  • universal access to telecommunications

  • sliding tariff scales for water (i.e. larger consumers should pay a higher per unit price)

  • free primary health care

  • return of most mineral resources into formal state ownership (in reality, compromises with the mining industry weakened the measures) (113-114)

4. Democracy and Development

The Solidifier: 1996 Constitution

The supreme law of South Africa passed in 1996 is an ambitious document which preserves not only all the conventional liberal democratic safeguards, but adds a number of socio-economic rights – to decent housing, health care and water, to name the most substantial – making the government principally responsible for progressively materializing those rights. The ‘climate’ in which the legal document was being drafted was anything but harmonious. The forging of the constitutional settlement took place under intense pressure and mounting tensions and the whole period was characterized by violence and violent threats. A sort of low-intensity civil war was flickering in the KwaZulu-Natal province, waged by the Inkatha Freedom Party for greater autonomy from the center (i.e. the ANC), complemented by blackmail from the Afrikaner ultra-right from elsewhere in the country, threatening insurrection.49 As if that was not enough, the armed wings of the liberation groups were meanwhile carrying out high-profile assaults. No wonder that some of the relevant political forces wished for a constitution that would translate those ‘deep’ racial and ethnic divisions into a power-sharing scheme. The National Party was such force, when it called for a ‘consociational’ division whereby proportional representation in the public service, including veto powers, would be distributed among all recognized ethnic groups.50 However, the ANC insisted upon a unitary model of governance. A strong ANC negotiating team led by the experienced strategist Cyril Ramaphosa did not give in until it secured most of the ANC’s goals, and thus what we see today is a specific form of an otherwise typical separation of powers into three branches – legislative, executive and juridical. The constitution provides for a strong centralization of power, as there are few powers unequivocally delegated to the provinces or local/municipal authorities. This solution was in part informed by the understanding that richer regions would, given the chance, strengthen their autonomy from the national government in order to keep up their living standards made possible by perpetuating inequities and exploitation. The real policy-making happens at the national level, with the President as head of government – he appoints ministers and is supposed to govern together with the Cabinet. Although the cabinet ministers are officially responsible to the bicameral parliament (consisting of the National Assembly and the National Chamber of the Provinces) and a two-third majority of the assembly is authorized to impeach the President, the constitutional checks on the power of the executive may not work so well as on paper, simply because the ANC has continually been able to secure about two thirds of parliamentary seats51 (Butler 87-89). Heribert Adam (354) notes that the parliament was increasingly relegated to symbolic issues arousing the interest of the public, while the important policies were being decided behind closed doors. The constitution mandates a number of offices designed to counter and correct abuses of power – for example, a public protector, human rights commission, gender equality commission, national language board and electoral commission. Their impartiality is also compromised because of limited governmental funding and the fact that most appointees are senior ANC members. Nevertheless, the final draft of the constitution placed some of the ‘fundamental’ rights beyond the reach of parliament – in particular, property rights were firmly enshrined. The compulsory respect for the supreme law, in combination with the establishment of the Government of National Unity and a constitutional court, saved de Klerk’s face while he led his constituency into an agreement favoring the ANC. In addition, the ANC also used forms of more or less unashamed bribery to ensure the peaceful departure of various agents of apartheid when it provided a large number of security forces’ employees with pensions via the so-called ‘sunset clauses’ (Butler 26, 89-91).

As mentioned above, the standing of (the nine) provinces as a second tier of government is ‘constitutionally ambiguous’. Provinces are basically expected to implement policies devised at the national level, acting as an intermediary between the central government and citizens in key social areas such as education, health and welfare. Their budgets made up more than 50 percent of total government expenditure in 2002, and 80 percent of those budgets regularly go to the aforesaid key social areas. Provincial financial autonomy is severely restricted, since 96 percent of their revenue comes from the central government. The municipalities, the third tier of government, face the harshest problems, not least because of the crisis of legitimacy, and a long-term crisis of effectiveness and capacity, inherited from apartheid. Municipalities thus cannot readily fulfill the role in mass delivery of public services that the national government envisages. The ANC has tried to replace the often patchy administrative coverage of many (especially rural) areas with a framework that recognizes three different types of municipality. The metropolitan councils represent the ‘Category A’ municipalities, or so-called ‘unicities’52 – those enjoy the vastest authority within their boundaries. Smaller municipalities are Category B and are part of Category C, or ‘district councils’, an attempt at making local administration contiguous. Many of those districts in the remoter rural areas lag in provision of even the most basic services. One requirement that is extremely challenging is the financial viability that these municipalities are expected to achieve, which leaves them preoccupied with budget control and cost-recovery through service payments. These challenges are exacerbated when considered in the light of popular opinion: according to surveys, two thirds of South Africans hold an instrumental (rather than procedural, i.e. centered on the electoral process) view of democracy, perceiving it primarily as a vehicle for delivering jobs, education and basic necessities (99-103, 107).

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