David Saks
David Saks

How communists paid the price and capitalists scooped the pool in post-apartheid SA

When Mandela first met with Sol Kerzner it was not, as was the case with most of his post-release meetings with big-hitting capitalist exploiters, to solicit (or more accurately, quietly demand) a large donation for black upliftment projects. Instead, the purpose was purely political. This was mid-1990, a time when it was not at all certain which way the country was going. Increasingly, the remaining apartheid laws were becoming dead letters, but in one crucial way apartheid remained in force, and that was that the various homelands, ‘independent’ or not, were still very much in existence. Mandela recognised that in order to reincorporate these territories back into South Africa proper in the post-apartheid dispensation, certain homeland leaders might need a little tactful persuasion. That included Lucas Mangope, whose Bophuthatswana had been relatively one of the more successful Bantustans and who genuinely believed he could make a go of it regardless of which way the rest of the country chose to go.

That, of course, was where Sol Kerzner came in. When Mandela first met with him, it was not to get him to sign a large cheque but to assist him in getting Mangope to co-operate in the process of reincorporating Bophuthatswana into South Africa proper. One of the reasons why the homelands experiment was somewhat less disastrous in Bophuthatswana’s case, ironically, was due to Kerzner’s very involvement. It was there that he established his Sun City hotel empire, taking advantage of the fact that being officially independent of South Africa, the normal restrictions on gambling and other designated vices did not apply. At his first meeting with Mandela, Kerzner did not skirt the issue, asking him what he had first thought when learning about the Sun City project. According to him, Mandela replied that he had felt a sense of relief that through it, thousands of jobs would be created that in turn would make life a little easier once it came to dealing with the post-apartheid economic legacy. Kerzner duly did what he could to influence Mangope to accept that change was coming and that there would be no place for independent homelands in the new South Africa.

I heard all this from Kerzner himself, when I was conducting research for our book Jewish Memories of Mandela. The book came out in August last year, and in general it was quite warmly received. However, resentment was expressed in some quarters over the fact that Jewish businessmen, who had prospered under apartheid and even in some cases co-operated with the system, were being allowed to share in the credit for South Africa’s transformation. Indeed, the latter parts of the book include a strong focus on the relationship between Mandela and various Jewish business leaders who made substantial contributions to the social upliftment projects he championed.

In thinking this over, I mulled over the stark contrast between how Jews like Sol Kerzner had experienced apartheid with how it had been experienced by Jewish activists within the ANC-led liberation movements. The majority of the latter were committed communists, lived lives of near penury and frequently endured state-sponsored persecution, including bannings and imprisonment. A great many were ultimately forced into exile, sometimes one short step ahead of the security police.

One such activist was Michael Harmel. He was one of the leading intellectual lights of the underground SA Communist Party, and probably its foremost theorist. Receiving only the barest remuneration for his efforts, he devoted his life to studying and writing on communist political theory, preparing the ideological groundwork for the workers’ utopia he and fellow Party members sincerely believed was destined to replace the apartheid regime. In Harmel’s dedication, self-sacrifice and abiding faith, there was something akin to the impoverished East European Talmudic scholar of a bygone era. Dying in the mid-1970s, he did not live to see the demise of apartheid, but at least was spared witnessing the wholesale collapse of the international communist system to which he had devoted his life.

The cruel reality is that for all the heroism and self-sacrifice of its adherents, communism proved in the main to be a gigantic exercise in futility. Little was destined to become of all the solemn party conferences, intensive and often acrimonious debates, policy papers, earnest theorising over the minutiae of Marxist doctrine and everything else associated with the movement in South Africa. Instead, when Mandela was released, it was to the hated capitalists that he went to provide the wherewithal for building a new society.

Maybe Mandela was merely being diplomatic when he answered Kerzner’s question, but that did not mean that what he said was untrue. In the end it is people like Sol Kerzner who have succeeded in making a real difference to the lives of the long-suffering proletariat, and in the areas that really count – jobs, income, opportunity, infrastructure. For the thwarted dreamers of the hard left, it must have been a very bitter pill to swallow.

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    • http://southafricana.blogspot.com Dave Harris

      Like the Civil Rights Struggle in the US, there were many Jews who were at the forefront of the struggle against the apartheid regime, but Sol Kerzner was certainly NOT one of them. He was benefited enormously from the apartheid regime and Mandela’s purpose of meeting with him was to give him a gentlemanly warning to ensure SA boundaries were kept intact.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Which is why the Communists started the Peoples’ War and blamed the IFP?

      And why the TRC examined ONLY 1000 deaths in the 40 years of apartheid in the war between the communist ANC and Socialist Afrikaner and NOT the 20,000 black on black deaths?

      And why Mandela never did incorporate the Homelands – they are still ruled by tribal chiefs on a totally different legal and land ownership system?

      And why Mandela in his very first speech when released from prison said he was still a communist?

      And why Mandela did the Arms Deal?

      I believe that Mandela thought he could make Unity Government/Communism work despite all the evidence to the contrary.

      So SA actually fell between 2 stools – the worst of both capitalism and communism.

    • bernpm

      “For the thwarted dreamers of the hard left, it must have been a very bitter pill to swallow…….”

      A quick lesson in “…whatever you think…..money buys the bread”. Mandela had years to think about it and understand the principle.

      A friend of mine and convinced socialist when first met him, moved up in the industrial ranks. When I met him some years later he confessed “I am moving towards the right, socialism has become to expensive for me”.

      The top ANC leaders have undergone a similar transformation but simply do not confess their change of mind in public.

    • Bernstein

      Not only crony capitalists who have triumphed – racists, and racial nationalists using racist labels have also. The kind of people who label others ‘Jews’ etc without a second thought. It’s remarkable that sincere communists manage to ‘work together to do more’ in such toxic company.

    • Bernstein

      “For the thwarted dreamers of the hard left, it must have been a very bitter pill to swallow. ” Perhaps the most bitter pill must be that their fellow travellers are now largely capitalists of the worst kind (monopolistic, state-deployed, unproductive and not adding to the means of production, running down old and previously productive enterprises and mines while the workers starve), coupled with an assortment of racial nationalists together with a good dose of old fashioned tribalism. Strange company today’s communists keep, not so?

    • Joe Soap

      Dave, I don’t see a single line in the article referring to Sol as an civil rights activist so
      your trumpet away. Today, as usual, you didn’t score either.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Mandela is a tribal Xhosa, Zuma is a tribal Zulu – their culture is communal and communist.

      Mbeki and Tutu are detribalised and westernised Fingo – their culture is capitalist.

      Mandela’s vision is “one tribe” – but as the Koran says “If God had wanted one nation, he would have made only one”

      The tribes have to stop trying to force their cultures on each other and accept the differences.

      David Livingstone wrote that polygamy was not adultery because without a polygamous chief the tribe would starve in times of famine. No subject was allowed to horde grain or they would be accused of witchcraft – only the chief could horde grain, and for that he needed many wives because men did not grow crops.

      African culture was communal and dependant on a chief to tell them what to do. Suddenly they must know how to be entrepreneurs and farmers?

      Even today if one man has accumulated more than his neighbours he risks accusations of witchcraft, not praise for working hard.

      In fact my own char and gardener have had to unplug the fridge/freezer I gave thm because of jealousy of neighbours and the risk of attack.

      No wonder there are so many psychotic children roaming around!

    • Jon Story

      @Dave Harris

      ‘Mandela’s purpose of meeting with him was to give him a gentlemanly warning to ensure SA boundaries were kept intact’.

      I take it that you heard this from Mandela himself.

      Anything less would be wishful thinking and thumbsucking on your part.

    • beachcomber

      “In the end it is people like Sol Kerzner who have succeeded in making a real difference to the lives of the long-suffering proletariat, and in the areas that really count – jobs, income, opportunity, infrastructure. For the thwarted dreamers of the hard left, It must have been a very bitter pill to swallow.”

      Yep … and they are still choking as the pill slowly goes down … and as a result, churlishly want to nationalize and let fall into decay every viable industry in the land.

    • http://hismastersvoice.wordpress.com/ The Creator

      There’s been quite a lot written about this, though most of it is fearfully dishonest. The key texts are by the Zimbabwean Trotskyite Dale McKinley (who claimed that the ANC was always intending to sell out South Africa to big business, because he was never in the ANC) and the Irish Trotskyite Patrick Bond (who claimed that the ANC had once intended not to sell out South Africa to big business, because he was once in the ANC, but then, after he left, suddenly sold out South Africa to big business).

      The SACP, by the way, didn’t exactly lose out — its leading lights are often millionaires, like many of the leading lights in COSATU. The big losers are anybody who actually believes in left-wing politics. Any hint of debate around that is ruthlessly crushed, these days.

    • Brian B

      The myth about communism/socialism is that the people at the helm espouse their utopian egalitarian philosophy but invariably enrich themselves to the detriment of the masses.
      Capitalism serves to grow and develop new opportunities whereas socialism tends to rely on depleting existing wealth and resources.
      Unchecked capitalism becomes exploitive.
      To my mind the prime function of governments is to create environments where people can prosper .
      It is eternally voguish to condemn wealthy entrepreneurs instead of harnessing and encouraging their intuition and capital to nation build.

    • Enough Said

      “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.” – Karl Marx

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Whites thought that the problem with the black tribes was communalism/communism – which is why, when De Klerk told them the communist threat was over, they voted 70 percent for handing over power.

      They were wrong – the problem was Africanism, imported from Black America, Black Racism infiltrated with Arab Nationalism under Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam.

    • Rey Eisner

      It’s the exact reason why Harry Potter had to suffer through years of Defense Against the Dark Arts classes at Hogwarts, so that he could aptly respond when he came across a Deatheater.

    • ian shaw

      In Russia as well as other countries formerly under Soviet ruel, the ex-Communist leaders bought the state-owned and centralized manufacturing plants and agricultural entities at bargain basement prices and arte today the richest capitalists.