Some Propositions on the Black Elite: A response to James Ngculu


My point of departure is the following:

Does the national question have the same content after the coming to political power of the African National Congress (ANC) as before ?

The ANC tradition

Apartheid deliberately obstructed the emergence of a black elite and even a black middle class. This was part of the system of internal colonialism which required the reservation of wealth and privilege for the domestic white ruling group.

The liberation movement emerged as a multi-class African nationalist movement representing the interests of the working class, peasantry, and professionals.

Arguably it also represented the interests of a future bourgeoisie proper, consisting of big black business, top public servants, and top professionals.

However, the Morogoro conference cautioned against an elitist capture of the revolution to serve their own interests and not those of the masses. Ngculu quotes correctly the 1969 Strategy and Tactics document: ”Thus our nationalism must not be confused with the classical drive by an elitist group among the oppressed people to gain ascendancy so that they can replace the oppressor in the exploitation of the mass.”

This view was reinforced in the preface to the 2002 Strategy and Tactics (S&T) document: “But ours is more than just a national liberation struggle because it places the interests of the poor and the role of the working class at the centre of its theory and practice… The ANC … is a disciplined force of the left.”

The apartheid system

The ANC has always recognised the importance of understanding the national as well class forces in colonial countries. We also understood the dynamics of these social forces in South Africa’s system of internal colonialism.

We understood as well that the inequalities in apartheid South Africa were due to super-exploitation by the ruling class that enabled huge differences in income and wealth to exist – the largest differences in the world.

The preface to 2002 S&T states that the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) “requires the elimination of the legacy of apartheid super-exploitation and inequality and the redistribution of wealth and income to benefit society as a whole, especially the poor”. It calls for “the elimination of apartheid property relations. This requires the de-racialisation of ownership and control of wealth.”

Our present situation

Since the ANC’s coming to power, there has begun a significant shift in social forces. The recent ANC Gauteng Base Document states that a significant black middle-class has emerged in that province. It also states that the black bourgeoisie proper is “tiny”, and is a “small fraction of the capitalist class”. However, it is “politically and socially significant”. (Perhaps the press exaggerate its size to sensationalise its influence.)

The S&T document warns that “experience in other countries has taught us that, without vigilance, elements of the new capitalist class can become witting or unwitting tools of monopoly interests.”

In all this analysis, it is clear that the mere acquisition of wealth by some black individuals is not the issue at all. Some of our top black advocates, surgeons, auditors etc earn large incomes without raising undue concern. Rather, what may become important is the role of the new black bourgeoisie as a social force, in particular that section located in the commanding positions of business corporations.

The S&T argues that these contradictions are “secondary”. There is no doubt of the perspective that “the motive forces include the black emergent capitalist class” whose interests are served by the NDR. But they need to organised and given direction.

This is clearly a correct position as long as economic power resides in white monopoly hands.

However, there are some disturbing trends. First, the emerging capitalist class is taking up positions in structures which are still based on super-exploitation of workers. Second, the inequalities of income are as great now as ever.

In general, the acquisition of wealth by one social group cannot be separated from the impoverishment of another group. Is this not what our history teaches us?

Since we are committed to deracialising the economy, including the commanding heights in the private sector, are there any means of doing this without maintaining structures that perpetuate existing inequalities, thereby going against the broad goals of the NDR and the Freedom Charter?

Should we not launch a debate on deracialising the economy in ways that lower inequality and democratize the economy?

I offer these comments in the context of the aspirations of the ANC and no other organs of the movement.

By Ben Turok in New Agenda Issue 17 (2017)


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