By GERRY FOLEY
South African President Thabo Mbeki’s June 25 White House visit with George Bush shattered a few more illusions that Mbeki’s African National Congress (ANC) government represents the interests of the South African people.
The Mbeki-Bush meeting was widely reported in the capitalist media. A June 25 CBS interview had Mbeki urging “stability” on the African continent to “guarantee the safety of foreign [imperialist] investments.”
In order to achieve this stability and demonstrate a “credible commitment to peace,” as well as “democratic and responsible behavior,” Mbeki pledged to “mechanize” and otherwise update South Africa’s armed forces to improve their capacity for intervention as “peacekeepers” in the sub-Saharan region.
“Stability” and “peacekeeping” are code words in diplomatic parlance for intervention and counterrevolution, wherein social movements that mobilize to fight for independence from imperialist domination and control are slated to be undermined and smashed, neo-colonial style, with the brute force of imperialist-sponsored armies.
The virtual state of war in much of Africa today is the product of imperialist rivalries played out by corrupt hirelings in the pay of this or that world capitalist power. The process of the recolonization of Africa reveals the fever pitch that global competition has reached in the struggle for control of Africa’s vital natural resources-especially its mineral wealth.
Bush’s courting of Mbeki is designed to promote U.S. capitalist interests in Africa as against those of its European competitors. Mbeki’s central aim in the Bush encounter was to secure U.S. investment in South Africa’s failing economy to further the interests of South Africa’s overwhelmingly white ruling class. The ANC government has long ceased to project the radical nationalist image that brought it to power in South Africa’s 1994 elections, which registered the end of apartheid rule.
Default over AIDS crisis
Bush and Mbeki were noticeable non-participants in the concurrent UN conference on AIDS, where the profiteering policies of the world’s dominant drug companies came under some scrutiny but where the adopted “Declaration of Commitment,” according to the June 27 New York Times, was “in no way enforceable by the international community.”
Pressed to explain their glaring absence, Bush bragged that the paltry $200 million the U.S. contributed to worldwide AIDS relief was the largest of any nation, while Mbeki alluded to his government’s policy that poverty, not the HIV virus, is the direct cause of AIDS. Mbeki is the only world leader who subscribes to this scientifically discredited notion.
As a result, South Africa, the richest country in sub-Saharan Africa, has stood impotent in the face of a plague whose victims would otherwise have access to life-prolonging medications. South Africa has the largest number of HIV-positive citizens in the world. At 4.7 million infected people, almost 25 percent of the adult population is HIV-positive. Lacking even the most minimal access to today’s relatively effective drug therapies, not to mention basic medical facilities, the country faces a death sentence for millions.
Bush’s posturing as a world leader in the fight against AIDS didn’t sit well with those familiar with U.S. policy. An international rebuke had recently forced the World Trade Organization to back off an action brought against the Brazilian government, at the behest of Washington, to prevent Brazil from distributing free to its 100,000 HIV-infected citizens all of the 14 anti-HIV virus drugs developed by its own pharmaceutical industries.
U.S. drug companies had similarly been pressed to drop a law suit against those in South Africa who threatened to use low-cost generic drugs rather than the patented and unaffordable drugs offered by U.S. companies.
In truth, the dropping of these actions is usually accompanied by semi-secret government side agreements with the dominant global pharmaceutical companies to use their high-priced drugs at reduced but still unaffordable prices.
Indeed, so-called competition between the leading drug manufacturers has in some cases reduced corporate price-fixing so that countries like India can now offer a year’s HIV therapy for $295 as opposed to $360, or even $1200. For the vast majority of India’s HIV population all three figures are beyond their reach.
Secretary of State Colin Powell was compelled to extend Bush’s $200 million boast by insisting that it was just an “initial” contribution. In the face of 44 million HIV-positive people in the world, 25 million in Africa, capitalism has relegated the debate over life itself to negotiations about patent rights and price. Brazil is threatened with expulsion from the WTO for the “crime” of providing free live-saving medications to its citizens.
South Africa is a prime example of a nation at an impasse. Its capitalist government and leaders, largely Black men like Mbeki, and before him Nelson Mandela, are today the Black mask on the white face of capitalist plunder.
The wealth of the nation, its farms, factories, mines and other resources, not to mention its military and police are owned and controlled by the same exploiters who ruled under apartheid.
A handful of ANC men formally head the government, while a handful of others seek more profitable employment in the capitalist class itself.
Cyril Ramaphosa, for example, the chief Black spokesperson for Mbeki’s much touted “Black empowerment” program-that is, Black capitalism-was the former general secretary of the ANC and before that the head of the powerful National Union of Mineworkers. Ramaphosa was among the ANC’s chief negotiators with the apartheid government in drawing up today’s South African constitution, which guarantees the sanctity of private property, past and present, and therefore perpetuation of the economic rule of the former apartheid elite.
Jay Naidoo, the former leader of the ANC-led Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and a communications minister in the first ANC government, left his posts to form an information technology corporation. Joe Modie, the former commander of the ANC’s guerrilla unit, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and a government defense minister, has turned to directing a corporation that seeks military contracts with the government.
These three men, as well as other ANC tops, have become multi-millionaires-their reward for donning the Black mask of white capitalist rule.
Mbeki himself champions Black capitalism; his 1999 remarks at the Black Management Forum were explicit: “As part of the realization of the aim to eradicate racism in our country, we must strive to create and strengthen a Black capitalist class.” Mbeki considered this to be “an important part of the process of the deracialization of the ownership of productive property in our country.”
In the name of anti-racism, South Africa’s puppet rulers enrich themselves at the expense of the oppressed and exploited masses. Their vision is focussed exclusively on what is possible in the framework of a world system in decline, a system that has reduced Africa and much of the underdeveloped world to an unprecedented state of decay and horror.
In this context, it is instructive to compare South Africa, rich in mineral resources and Africa’s most industrially developed nation, with revolutionary Cuba. Despite the U.S. blockade, Cuba maintains one of the most effective health care systems in the world. Its HIV rate is the lowest in the world; its ratio of doctors to people is the best in the world; and medical care is free. Its government has focussed a large portion of its resources not only to providing first-class AIDS treatment and education programs, but to vital AIDS research designed to find a cure.
In the framework of capitalism, AIDS and HIV provide a market for price-fixed drugs and billions in profits. Obtaining a cure runs counter to the inherent profit drive of a rapacious system that would destroy the world in the name of maintaining its competitive status.
Placing profit before human needs is fundamentally irrational and insane. A cure for AIDS is entirely within the reach of a world that spends trillions on weapons of war and conquest. Ninety percent of the world’s scientists are engaged in war-related research or research designed to extract the maximum profit for the capitalist few.
This in itself is justification for removing the capitalist system from the face of the earth. And that is the job of the emerging generation of youthful fighters who stand appalled as capitalist globalization reduces the planet to ruin.