Defend Truth


How do we consolidate our precious democracy? There are many hidden forces at play, dating back to 1994 and beyond


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Why is it that Empire still determines our path? While the nation is constantly reminded that it must avoid a Zimbabwe scenario, it sounds more like they are actually saying to us, if you don’t watch it, we will ensure you end up like Zimbabwe. As with South Africans, Zimbabweans also were not in charge of their path and destiny.

As we approach yet another local government election and freely and fairly participate in the ritual of participatory democracy, we do so fully aware that we fought so hard for the privilege. But in doing so, we must ask the question: is this enough to consolidate our democracy or do we need to do more? It certainly seems a rather difficult endeavour. After all, we don’t possess the power to determine our own destiny, never have. What I mean by this is that our future path, socioeconomically, is determined by others and not ourselves as South Africans.

International investors, ratings agencies, foreign financial institutions and indeed it seems foreign governments too — these are the people that can and are determining our future. Just as they were the ones who decided when apartheid could end, that we cannot possess nuclear bombs, nor sophisticated satellite technology and most certainly not advanced missile technology. They destroyed all of the above in the early 1990s before entering into negotiations with the liberation organisation, the ANC.

I would like to believe that they must have had a plan when deciding to take this bold step. After all, we are told in great detail about how Mandela was courted and eventually brought to a point where he agreed that although he could not speak for the ANC, we were ready to talk about talks. You don’t simply negotiate a new constitution without having taken stock of the fundamentals and the non-negotiables.

How do we protect minority rights now that we have agreed to hand political power back to the black majority? What about private property rights, inheritance wealth, the asset base of the state, pension funds and so much more? Surely, there must have been a plan according to which Roelf Meyer and Co were guided? Where is the blueprint of that plan, I wonder? Perhaps then we can understand why certain matters of state fall outside our purview. Why certain matters like our destiny as a country do not reside with us, but with others.

Why does Empire still determine our path? We are constantly reminded that we must avoid a Zimbabwe scenario. Sounds awfully like they are actually saying to us, if you don’t watch it, we will ensure you end up like Zimbabwe. Because like us, Zimbabweans also were not in charge of their path and destiny. So, when Mugabe made the fatal mistake of thinking he could determine that country’s own destiny and put it on its own path by seizing farmers’ land and returning it supposedly to the people, he and his people certainly were made to suffer the consequences of their foolishness. Till today, 20 years later, they still suffer from their very bad decision. To think they could determine their own future path? The gall, I tell you.

Clearly, we must avoid such a fate at all costs and this really does mean not to mess with private property rights and the land question in SA, among other non-negotiables, I would imagine.

And when some of us attempt to raise these matters, it is met with a strangling of honest criticism, as WEB du Bois put it. The only narrative that must find expression is that the terrible plight of the poor and black majority in our country is in large part due to inept governance and corruption of our largely black government these past 27 years. We must not talk of the past 300 years of colonialism and apartheid. No, must we dwell on the past, can’t we move on already? Always blaming apartheid!

This argument is tantamount to telling the Jews, really, must you remind us continuously of your pain and suffering during the Holocaust? Must you remind us year after year for the past 70 years? Would it not be so inconsiderate, so insensitive and indeed denying this very important historical atrocity? We must never forget what the Germans did to the Jews, so why would you want us as Africans to accept such a shallow argument as to agree to move on from 300 years of oppression, exploitation and death?

Stop trying to change and/or direct the narrative away from the critical issues and let’s rather work together to attempt to resolve them. Hence it beckons the question, what must we do to consolidate our democracy?

Perhaps someone from the old National Party can provide us with that ever-elusive plan in order to shed some light on these matters. I mean, let’s take phase one of such a plan. The decision to return the country to majority rule through the vote. This is huge! The Americans and the British certainly would have been consulted and they would have inquired about what the actual plan would be, surely? And I don’t think the answer would simply have been we negotiate towards a democratic election, ensure a good constitution and leave the rest of everything else up in the air and pray that these blacks, who just yesterday climbed down from the trees, according to many whites in South Africa at the time, will govern properly. Surely, that was not the answer to such a pertinent question — what is the plan?  

We now know that the so-called black-on-black violence in the years leading up to the 1994 election was certainly part of a plan, hence the involvement of a Third Force consisting of police and army personnel; the training of Inkatha Freedom Party members in parts of KZN to fuel the violence, murders and massacres. This initiative to destabilise liberation parties during the negotiations period did not just fall from the sky, it was planned in a room somewhere.

It was part of a bigger plan — where is it?

We observe the boldness with which some in our country are advocating for the privatisation of basic services at the municipal level, the building of a private Afrikaans university, the secession demands of one of our provinces. Are all these just the natural evolution of our democracy or is this one form of consolidating our democracy? Is this not playing into the hands of identity politics which is not good for us as a nation, surely?

It’s good that we can go and participate in a democratic process by voting in the upcoming local elections, but what is the point when we cannot determine our own future as a country? We are not allowed to take radical and bold decisions to address poverty, unemployment and inequality in any meaningful way.

Perhaps this was always the grand plan, stagnation, so that the status quo may remain. 

I wonder… DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Hendrik Jansen van Rensburg says:

    If the author is indeed correct, then the mysterious, sinister forces that want to take the country to a Zim scenario if their interests are not protected don’t need to do much: the liberators of the poor are doing a damned good job of it without any erstwhile Knights of the Empire having to lift a finger. Ironic, isn’t it?

    Yet another very disappointing fantasy spun by a supposed academic, the quality of which also plays its role in hastening the arrival of the Zim scenario.

    Give us a well-reasoned argument based on some facts when you get the chance, please Mr van Heerden. We can read imaginitive fantasies in childrens’ books, thanks very much.

    • Estelle Cooper says:

      This is such a self pitying piece – like a 60 year old adult still blaming his lack of success on an unfortunate childhood. At WHAT point do you as a person and as a nation stop blaming your lack of agency and accountability for the failure of the present on external factors? Of course all nations are bound by global interdependence which impacts on everyone and has to be addressed collectively. But SA CAN control the wanton waste of taxpayer money by the greed of ANC crony governance and the total lack of basic delivery it causes – why 27 years on are our children not educated for a modern economy? Why has the infrastructure like the exceptional railway lines network been allowed to disappear before our eyes? – at some point one must be an adult and take responsibility for your own happy future – or settle for the childlike misery of blaming Zimbabwe-style crony capture on your unhappy childhood.

  • Charles Parr says:

    Oh jeez, this guy considers himself an intellect.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    Ha! Just because you’re not paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you!

    Thank you Oscar – now we know. Zim happened because the Imperialists made it happen. They’re the ones who goaded Mugabe and his cadres into seizing the most lucrative and productive farms (not those underdeveloped strips of bush, mind you – too much effort to get crops in there) and turning them into derelict non-productive smallholdings. They’re the ones who converted Zim from one of the world’s few net food exporters into a net food importer – turned Africa’s bread basket into a begging bowl. Bob and his knobs were simply tools in the hands of the warlords.

    And South Africa – now it’s 300 years of apartheid? Are you insane? Do some cursory reading on our history. The Cape governors father and son Van Der Stel were men of colour for goodness’ sake – who did great things and some bad things. The first serious northward migrations by white settlers only occurred in the nineteenth century while Nguni tribes were still heading south and hunting down khoi, Quena and whatever bushmen they could find, killing them like dogs. And you call us racist imperialists?

    Oscar, this little essay of yours is not about “wondering”, it’s about your inability to understand that Africa is what Donald Trump called it, unfortunately. There is no guiding hand out there making Africa do it, you’re like Hansie Cronjé who said the devil made him do it. Anything but accepting responsibility for the outcomes in Africa.

  • Max Hutchinson says:

    The victim mentality, as is the case with any complex, is solely in the hands of the individual; victimhood focusses on the past – change the future. Change, as occurred in 1994, was preceded by a groundswell of public opinion that dictated, so far and no further – that is the reality of what the “privileged” surrendered in this country. I am really proud of how the many peoples of South Africa came together in a spirit of nation building – the belief, hope, commitment and confidence of reconciliation, not retribution. Yes – there are many obstacles to still overcome, but this cannot be achieved by continuously scratching at history – legitimate at the time but distasteful in modern terms. I would urge the author to take a look at the poverty that prevailed in European cities decades into the 20th century, not to mention the (white) slave trade within the Ottoman Empire. This is not a judgement but a statement of fact. Germany, Italy and Japan rebuilt their economies in a couple of decades following two devastating wars and today represent the flagships of democracy, prosperity and social justice. Whilst I agree that the strategic national ambitions, greed and influence of western nations hold too much sway and need to be dismantled, it is we who need to find ways to unite and shed the mantles of victimhood. The west is not responsible for inept government or corruption. Government is the wealthiest institution in any country and with the will, it can effect real change.

  • John Cartwright says:

    Until recently we didn’t have a clear name for the process of disentanglement that we need to go through. Today we can call it decolonisation.

  • Barbwire Rich says:

    The Jewish people have moved on very successfully after the horrors of the Holocaust and times of persecution. Why can’t we Africans do the same?

    • Theresa Avenant says:

      I associate with a lot of Jewish fold and I can tell you that I do not know of one Jewish person who can say that they have moved from the Holocaust. Shame on you for making such a statement. As for the majority of South Africans and apartheid, I do not believe that apartheid should ever be forgotten. The cruelty and damage that it caused to the South Africans who suffered it can never be reversed. How can you tell people to move on from apartheid when it still exists. How can you deny the level of inequality and abject poverty suffered by most people in South Africa today and continue to view these atrocities from the comfort of your privileged life?! My wish to you is that you will one day learn to think deeply, read the right books and listen to the people who have suffered. Perhaps what we need to do is focus on reforming the thinking of the privileged few, many of whom have taken the time, effort and trouble to understand what needs to be done.

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    The ANC have been in government for 27 years- they came in 1994 with the good wishes and genuine goodwill of the “western world” and what do we see now? A country on its knees, rampant corruption and inept,arrogant and compromised individuals in high office, poverty stricken people, dreadful public education, and mostly appalling health facilities.Not to mention the failure of SOE’s, and the abysmal condition of national assets such as the railways. Is this the fault of “imperialism”!

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    Oscar is writing more frequently in the run-up to the elections. I suggest he is directing the attention away from the ANC and its troubles.

  • Theresa Avenant says:

    All I can say to you Oscar is Bravo! I salute you. Thank you for your smack between the eyes writing.

  • david clegg clegg says:

    A pity so much of the criticism of this article so far, is rather ad hominem. But I agree that Oscar is assuming, too easily, that evil, controlling outside agencies are at the root of our problems (could it even have been the Illuminati or Bernard Baruch?) The best comments, with which I largely agree, are in the last lines of Max’s note and John Cartwright’s.
    Simply put, outside agencies (and a few internal forces) pressured the Apartheid government to enter into a settlement and a fine constitution for the future. The first generation of ANC government did an extraordinary job. But it failed to educate the succeeding and later generations of leaders in economics, political history, management and ethics, as well as allowing the school system (and much else) to fall into disrepair. And (as I once wrote to another paper) we are now reaping the whirlwind of an incapable and corrupt third-world state which has run out of other people’s money, overseen by a tripartite alliance whose collective beliefs are past their (and its) sell-by date, and an economy which is a shadow of its former self.
    So, Oscar, I share your dismay but the cause was our own hands, not others’ and the solution is in our own hands, starting with some emphatic leadership from our current president.

    • Hendrik Jansen van Rensburg says:

      Of course the criticism against the author is ad hominem. The criticism is, after all, against him. There is nothing is substance in his writing to respond to – that is the problem, and that is why he attracts ad hominem criticism.

      To take one example from his diatribe, the Zim issue, I would like to know:

      1. How many farms were seized from white farmers and handed over to black farmers?
      2. How many of the new owners were legitimate agriculturalists and how many were Mugabe cronies?
      3. What were the outcomes? For example, what was the percentage of GDP that the farms contributed to the economy before they were seized, and what is it now? Provide a split between real farmers and political cronies, if appropriate.

      Once the answers to the questions are known, it would then be possible to make an argument whether the West would have gone ahead with sanctions if the outcomes had been different. Was the West’s reaction simply to stop Africans “determining their own path”, or did it have merit?

      But Mr van Heerden does none of that. He simply throws mud at the “Empire” without considering whether there are grounds for the action against Zimbabwe. There is no academic or other merit in the author’s writing. It is just mud-slinging without rational presentation of facts, followed by the development of an argument, resulting in a statement of opinion, to which a counter argument can then be presented.

      This man’s writing is politicking. Clumsy and cheap politicking at that.

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