Mandela in Randfontein, South Africa, November 1993. Photograph: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Mandela's power has come: The ANC's challenges in government

While the ANC has spent years bravely resisting apartheid, it has no experience of government. Sarah Baxter assesses the problems facing Nelson Mandela in power.

“The goal of our struggle is in sight, we are now ending one journey and starting another.”

Nelson Mandela, FNB stadium

For 82 years, the ANC has endured banning orders, expulsions, torture and jailings. It has operated in exile and underground. It has organised passive resistance and waged the armed struggle. It has barely had time to learn the skills of legal opposition, let alone government. But, as the votes are being counted in South Africa, it is preparing for power.

Many South Africans have been talking about their fears for the future. Bombs, destabilisation, economic chaos and violence. No sooner did the threat from Inkatha recede, than the terrorist white right has swung into operation. But none of this can detract from the sheer exuberance felt by South Africans who have been able to vote for the first time. For me, Shadrik Moloi, 45, who is illiterate and scratches a living pointing out parking spaces to motorists, put these pre-election nerves in perspective. He told a newspaper in Johannesburg: “My fear is that I won't know how to make my vote. I think I will not know how to make my cross on the paper.” I hope he succeeded.

For now, the vote is all that matters. There are no more whites—only parliaments; and no more tricameral chambers for Indians and coloureds. Everyone has the vote, including Shadrik Maloi. At the Johannesburg Stock Exchange last week, Mandela promised that the years of mass action were over. “It was the action of a community which had no basic rights in this country and no vote. We have now got the vote.” The long-awaited “day of liberation” has arrived, and the years of government are about to begin.

Mandela has not had to prove that he is a statesman. That much was obvious from the day he left prison. But he has conducted the election campaign faultlessly. Wherever he has spoken, in the remote parts of South Africa as well as its urban ghettoes, he has reached out not only to the rapt audiences before him, but to the wider world beyond. He has not been too dignified to poke fun at his opponents, but he has spoken at all times of the national interest.

Could his biggest fear be his own mortality? He has been oddly emphatic in his last campaign speeches that “as long as I live”, white farmers, business people, the money markets and ethnic minorities have nothing to fear. But he is 75. He has survived the brutality of apartheid and has seen it crumble in his lifetime. That is already a remarkable achievement. In due course, the business of government will pass to a future generation.

It is one of the distortions of apartheid that there is a missing generation of leaders, dating from the 1960s, when the ANC was banned. The leader of the ANC in exile, Oliver Tambo, is dead, and many of Mandela's old comrades are near or past retirement age, although they, too, remain active: Walter Sisulu, Joe Slovo, Joe Modise and Ahmed Kathrada. Recognising people's fears about the succession, Kathrada emphasised at a rally in the Asian township of Lenasia last week that there was a “wealth of leadership” in the ANC. Generations to come would be guided by ANC policy, he said. But party discipline is not what it was during the years of jail and exile. Activists have had different experiences of opposition politics; and none of them (whites excepted) has had the vote, let alone power before.

The two frontrunners for the post of deputy president, Thabo Mbeki and Cyril Ramaphosa (if they are not displaced by Chief Buthelezi in the interests of “national unity”), have very different backgrounds. Mbeki, 51, the party's national chairman, went into exile as a teenager in 1961 and spent years representing the ANC abroad. Ramaphosa, 41, the ANC's general secretary, who formed the National Union of Mineworkers and led it into the Council of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), belongs to the new generation of ANC leaders, who learned their politics in the 1970s and 1980s as students in the black consciousness movement and as trade unionists and community activists in the United Democratic Front (UDF). There has been a great debate over whose experience has been more valuable: Mbeki, with his knowledge of life abroad and different regimes; and Ramaphosa, with his negotiating skills and practical experience of modern South Africa.

Tokyo Sexwale, 40, who is likely to be regional premier of South Africa's hub, the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging region, straddles the gap between the old and new guard. He was a black consciousness activist who went into exile in 1975, spent time in the Soviet Union and was jailed for 13 years in Robben Island on his return. He was recently voted South Africa's sexiest politician—not just because of his name—and is capable of charming township militants in Soweto and liberal whites in Johannesburg. Although he was compromised by the discovery of men found beaten in the basement of the ANC's regional office, he has managed to avoid the blame settling on him.

Many other up-and-coming leaders, who are destined for high office, are even younger: Trevor Manuel, 37, the ANC's head of economic policy; Jay Moosa, 36, ex-general secretary of the UDF. Between them, they have led strikes, organised mass action, conducted negotiations and have been detained. But, like everyone else in the ANC, they have no experience of office.

The ANC, however, has a “plan” for government. It is so proud of its plan, otherwise known as the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), and refers to it so frequently, that when I first arrived in South Africa it sounded disturbingly Stalinist. Hadn't the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe had enough failed “five-year plans”? Mandela has been brandishing the ANC's “plan” as though it were the trump card of the entire elections. “We have a plan Mr de Klerk, where is your plan?” he never stops asking the National Party leader. Far from being a Stalinist document, however, the purpose of the plan is to provide hope and reassurance. To Mandela, it is proof that the ANC is fit to govern. It has a “plan”, if not a record in office. It gives him confidence that the ANC can meet its promises.

The National Party has been busily trying to demolish the RDP, drawing on the tactics of the British Conservative Party. Advised by Mrs Thatcher's PR man, Sir Tim Bell, it has “costed” the programme and concluded that it will lead to higher taxes. But Mandela has gone out of his way to soothe the business community. “The economy of our country must be based on sound market principles,” he assured the Johannesburg Stock Exchange last week. “If you look at our programme, there is not a single sentence about nationalisation. There is not a single sentence that is communist, as our detractors claim.” The all-white traders said he left them feeling “mildly bullish”.

While many elements in the ANC remain militant, there is a key generation of young activists, who were radicalised in the 1970s and 1980s, but would now describe themselves as moderate, who are moving into positions of power and influence behind the scenes. Some will be civil servants and advisers to the new regime, whose task will be to ensure that the transition to a multi-racial society goes smoothly; others have already taken up business and management jobs in the multi-national corporations that used to shut out non-whites. They have now been catapulted into senior positions—the new South Africa will be a young society—but they are also pragmatists. Frank Meintjies, 35, a former journalist on I community newspaper in Natal and ex-information officer for Cosatu, has just been appointed to the eight-member council of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, charged with awarding new franchises for television and radio. “People on the left are talking about more managers,” he says, “and that denotes a key mental shift. We used to talk a lot about leadership, which was a fuzzier term that had more to do with platform oratory.” He is worried, however, that in the student movement, the UDF and other collective organisations in which people like him cut their teeth, “there was never any clarity about power and responsibility. One or two People would emerge as leaders because they were more combative. In the past, it was easy to make excuses for mistakes.”

Yacoub Abba Omar, 33, who joined Umkhonto WeSizwe in the 1980s and spent several years in exile before the ANC was unbanned, is now head of communications for Armscor, the acquisition agency for South Africa's defence forces. “Previously, the head of communications would have concentrated on making sure things did not get in the press and promoting the South African arms industry overseas. It is my job to ensure that the industry works in as transparent a way as possible and that it is accountable to elected and appointed officials.” He says firmly that there is little money to be saved from defence cuts, contrary to the claims of many leading ANC figures. In the short term, spending may even rise, as former ANC and PAC cadres are merged with the existing South African defence forces.

Ismail Momoniat, 36, is a member of the ANC's department of economic planning. He, too, is one of the party's new realists. “The collapse of the Eastern bloc has left a huge vacuum for lots of people, but it has meant there is no debate about whether you have the market system or not. You have to send the right signals to the financial markets.” The ANC, he says, will have little choice but to adopt the National Party's existing budget for the year 1994-95. There will be different spending priorities, but the over-all economic framework will remain the same. “We can't launch into big public investments in year one,” he says. Already, the department of economic planning is keeping a wary eye on the spending commitments made by voluble politicians, just like the Treasury or any western finance ministry.

So “responsible” is the ANC determined to be in office that May Hermanus, 33, a former National Union of Mineworkers official and safety engineer, who was headhunted by Samancor, the South African Manganese Corporation, suspects that large employers will end up closer to the trade unions than the government. “I think the Labour movement is going to hit its head against an ANC government,” she predicts. She regards the moratorium on

Strikes called for by the ANC in the run-up to the elections, when civil servants and hospital workers in the homelands began to take industrial action, as a sign of trouble to come. “I don't think the workers are going to stick it for long.”

Hermanus, who was classified as “coloured” by the apartheid regime, says, “My whole life has changed in the past ten years. I can walk the streets, go into cinemas and restaurants and work for a company like Semancor and feel I have something to offer. It's my country, my place and I have a role to play.” But, she adds, “It's scary. I don't feel powerful. I feel insecure and worried. This is the crunch. After all these years of arguing about things, we're actually going to have to make the changes work.”

Nelson Mandela has shown few signs of pre-election jitters, but he, too, must sometimes feel powerless and small. It was horribly clear as guns rang out around the FNB stadium in Johannesburg that he is respected, but not always obeyed. He was furious, warning that the ANC's security guards would be answerable to him for allowing weapons past the gates, and reminding “criminal elements” in the ANC that gun control was a main plank of party policy. None of the “comrades” will have paid any attention.

But, when, as seems certain, he is inaugurated as President of South Africa on 10 May, he will not be alone. There are many others in the ANC who share his ideals of peaceful and steady transition towards a multi-racial society. According to the constitution, he will have to lead a government of national unity, that includes members of the opposition par-ties, until the next election in five years' time. And, for the first time in his life, he will have the power of the state behind instead of against him. The time has come.

Show Hide image

The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

Show Hide image

What Jeremy Corbyn can learn from Orwell

Corbyn’s ideas may echo George Orwell’s – but they’d need Orwell’s Britain to work. It’s time Corbyn accepted the British as they are today.

All Labour Party leaderships since 1900 have offered themselves as “new”, but Tony Blair’s succession in 1994 triggered a break with the past so ruthless that the Labour leadership virtually declared war on the party. Now it is party members’ turn and they, for now at any rate, think that real Labour is Jeremy.

To Keir Hardie, real Labour had been a trade union lobby expounding Fellowship. To the Webbs, real Labour was “common ownership” by the best means available. Sidney’s Clause Four (adopted 1918) left open what that might be. In the 1920s, the Christian Socialist R H Tawney stitched Equality into the banner, but during the Depression young intellectuals such as Evan Durbin and Hugh Gaitskell designated Planning as Labour’s modern mission. After the Second World War, Clement Attlee followed the miners (and the London Passenger Transport Board) into Nationalisation. Harold Wilson tried to inject Science and Technology into the mix but everything after that was an attempt to move Labour away from state-regulated markets and in the direction of market-regulated states.

What made the recent leadership contest so alarming was how broken was the intellectual tradition. None of the candidates made anything of a long history of thinking about the relationship between socialism and what the people want. Yvette Cooper wanted to go over the numbers; only they were the wrong numbers. Andy Burnham twisted and turned. Liz Kendall based her bid on two words: “Have me.” Only Jeremy Corbyn seemed to have any kind of Labour narrative to tell and, of course, ever the ­rebel, he was not responsible for any of it. His conference address in Brighton was little more than the notes of a street-corner campaigner to a small crowd.

Given the paucity of thinking, and this being an English party for now, it is only a matter of time before George Orwell is brought in to see how Jeremy measures up. In fact, it’s happened already. Rafael Behr in the Guardian and Nick Cohen in the Spectator both see him as the kind of hard-left intellectual Orwell dreaded, while Charles Cooke in the National Review and Jason Cowley in the New Statesman joined unlikely fashion forces to take a side-look at Jeremy’s dreadful dress sense – to Orwell, a sure sign of a socialist. Cooke thought he looked like a “burned-out geography teacher at a third-rate comprehensive”. Cowley thought he looked like a red-brick university sociology lecturer circa 1978. Fair enough. He does. But there is more. Being a middle-class teetotal vegetarian bicycling socialistic feministic atheistic metropolitan anti-racist republican nice guy, with allotment and “squashily pacifist” leanings to match, clearly puts him in the land of the cranks as described by Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) – one of “that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of ‘progress’ like bluebottles to a dead cat”. And though Corbyn, as “a fully fledged, fully bearded, unabashed socialist” (Huffington Post), might make all true Orwellians twitch, he really made their day when he refused to sing the National Anthem. Orwell cited precisely that (see “The Lion and the Unicorn”, 1941) as an example of the distance between left-wing intellectuals and the people. It seemed that, by standing there, mouth shut, Comrade Corbyn didn’t just cut his wrists, he lay down full length in the coffin and pulled the lid shut.


Trouble is, this line of attack not only misrepresents the Labour leader, it misrepresents Orwell. For the great man was not as unflinchingly straight and true as some people think. It is impossible, for instance, to think of Orwell singing “God Save the King”, because he, too, was one of that “dreary tribe” of London lefties, and even when he joined Labour he remained ever the rebel. As for Corbyn, for a start, he is not badly dressed. He just doesn’t look like Chuka or Tristram. He may look like a threadbare schoolteacher, but Orwell was one twice over. Orwell was never a vegetarian or a teetotaller, but, like Corbyn, neither was he interested in fancy food (or drink), he kept an allotment, drove a motorbike, bicycled, cared about the poor, cared about the environment, loathed the empire, came close to pacifism at one point, and opposed war with Germany well past the time when it was reasonable to do so.

In Orwell’s thinking about socialism, for too long his main reference point was the London Marxist left. Not only did he make speeches in favour of revolutions, he took part in one with a gun in his hand. Orwell was far more interested, as Corbyn has been far more interested, in speaking truth to power than in holding office. His loyalty was to the movement, or at least the idea of the movement, not to MPs or the front bench, which he rarely mentioned. There is nothing in Corbyn’s position that would have shocked Orwell and, should they have met, there’d have been much to talk about: belief in public ownership and non-economic values, confidence in the state’s ability to make life better, progressive taxation, national health, state education, social care, anti-socially useless banking, anti-colonialism and a whole lot of other anti-isms besides. It’s hard to be sure what Orwell’s position would have been on Trident and immigration. Not Corbyn’s, I suspect. He was not as alert to feminism as he might have been but equally, few men try to write novels from a woman’s point of view and all Orwellians recognise that Julia is the dark hero of Nineteen Eighty-Four. In truth they are both austere types, not in it for themselves and not on anyone else’s expense account either. Corbyn won the leadership because this shone through from the very beginning. He came across as unaffected and straightforward – much as Orwell tried to be in his writing.

Except, as powerfully expressed in these pages by John Gray, Corbyn’s politics were made for another world. What sort of world would he need? First off, he’d need a regulated labour market: regulated by the state in partnership with a labour movement sensitive to what people wanted and experienced in trying to provide it. He would also need capital controls, a manufacturing base capable of building the new investment with Keynesian payback, an efficient and motivated Inland Revenue, a widespread public-service ethos that sees the country as an asset, not a market, and an overwhelming democratic mandate to get things done. In other words, Corbyn needs Orwell’s Britain – not this one – and at the very least, if he can’t have that, he needs the freedom to act that the European Commission forbids.

There’s another problem. Orwell did not trust left-wing intellectuals and spent half his life trying to work out their motivations as a class who spoke for the people, went in search of the people, and praised the people, but did not know them or believe in them. True, Corbyn says he wants to be open and inclusive, but we know he can’t possibly mean it when he says it will be the party, not him or the PLP, that will decide policy, just as we knew it couldn’t possibly be true when he said he’d turn PMQs into the People’s Question Time. Jeremy hasn’t changed his mind in forty years, appears to have great difficulty (unlike Tony Benn) in fusing socialism to national identity or experience (Hardie, Ben Okri and Maya Angelou were bolted on to his Brighton speech) and seems to think that not being happy with what you are given somehow captures the historic essence of socialism (rather than its opposite).

Granted, not thinking outside the ­circle is an inherent fault of the sectarian left but some of our most prominent left-wing journalists have it, too. Working-class support for nationalisation? Good. Right answer! Working-class opposition to benefit scroungers and further mass immigration? Bad. Wrong answer! Would you like to try again? In his essay “In Defence of Comrade Zilliacus” (1947) Orwell reckoned that left-wing intellectuals saw only what they wanted to see. For all their talk of representing the people, they hated the masses. “What they are frightened of is the prevailing opinion within their own group . . . there is always an orthodoxy, a parrot-cry . . .”

The game is hard and he may go down in a welter of knives, yet Corbyn still has time. He may go on making the same speech – on the benefits of apple pie to apple growers – but at some point he will have to drop the wish-list and get on the side of the British people as they are, and live with that, and build into it. Only the nation state can even begin to do the things he wants to do. The quicker he gets that, the quicker we can see if the latest incarnation of new Labour has a future.

Robert Colls is the author of “George Orwell: English Rebel” (Oxford University Press)

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis