Behind the scenes: my ultimate test as a new South African

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The Creators’ Sweat.X Karoo shoot

It was with a heavy heart that I entered Pickwicks bar late one night on Cape Town’s bustling Long Street. I had spent seven long months scouring South Africa for musicians, searching for the future subjects of my documentary. Yet night after night, open mic after open mic, I was unable to find the perfect fit. Meanwhile, I received a proper “welcome” to South Africa’s dark underside; I had been robbed twice, received a death threat, narrowly missed getting hit by bb gun bullets and had the wheel from my rental car stolen while it was parked outside of a new friend’s home. I was in Cape Town on a Fulbright scholarship, working in the same township where previous Fulbright student Amy Biehl had been killed by a mob in 1994. Murder rates in the western cape had since increased.  As I found the last seat at yet another open mic, I resigned myself to a night of sober, solo listening.

I’m not sure what it was about me that caught Nahum’s eye. From my frazzled appearance to begrudging-the-world posture, I can’t say I was the most approachable person in the room. All I know is that a bright-eyed, emaciated-looking South African walked straight up to me and said, “Hello. What is your name?” Without any seats left in the house, I tried to make room for him on the bench next to me. As he squirmed easily into the narrow space, he wasted no time in informing me that he was looking for a job and a place to live. I mentally winced as I remembered the last homeless guy that I tried to help. That situation had led to the above-mentioned death threat: a drunken tirade promising to “bring violence” on my “American home.”

Yet as I sat with Nahum throughout the remainder of the night, I listened to his story. He was an MC from the Eastern Cape who had recently moved to Cape Town to earn some money for his fiance and the baby they were expecting in another four months. Unable to find work in the township he grew up in, Nahum moved to Cape Town (where South Africa’s rich and fashionable come to parade and sunbathe and, inadvertently, create jobs). But like so many other young people in a country with roughly 40% unemployed citizens, Nahum had no luck in his search. I was surprised when I asked Nahum what type of work he would like to do, and he responded, “Producing film and music. I am a producer and a creator.”  Resolved to ignore the nagging voice in my head that told me Nahum could be another thief or worse, I told him the truth. “I’m making a documentary on South African music.” Then, before I could stop myself, “What are you doing tomorrow?”

The next day Nahum was helping me navigate the Cape Flats — one of the world’s most dangerous neighborhoods — to pick up a musician for a shoot. We had met at the same cafe, Nahum holding a copy of his passport which I had asked him to bring “for insurance purposes.” The truth was that I wanted his ID in case he stole my camera. He silently complied, not asking any questions.

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Nahum at work

When we got to the musician’s gig, I taught Nahum how to zoom and focus my Sony EX3 – a camera that was my pride and joy, and also the biggest investment I’d made in my life. Having had the camera nearly stolen a few weeks earlier, I watched him like a hawk.   I was soon impressed with his slow and gentle approach.  It wasn’t long before Nahum was accompanying me to all of my shoots.  When gangsters would stroll by with their eyes on the camera, he would stand between us and tell me what they had been hissing (“Get it from the white girl!”).

Nahum won my trust once and for all when we packed up a shoot in a particularly dangerous area of the Flats. He told me that his friend lived nearby, and offered to take me there for dinner. Cautiously, I said yes; he proceeded to direct me deeper and deeper into the Flats. We parked on an avenue I had never been to before, and I locked my car about nine times before walking to the door of a small house. Nahum knocked as I surveyed the area, mentally registering the fastest escape route.

The door opened, and I was ushered into a loudest, brightest, friendliest room you can imagine. Children ran in and out as women worked in every corner of the small kitchen with babies strapped to their backs. Nahum quickly made off with the men and I was given the task of chopping meat. I shyly offered to chop vegetables instead; “I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t—”

“VEGETARIAN!” the host cut me off, not needing an explanation. “Like Nahum!”

“Really? Nahum?” I asked, wondering why I didn’t know this already.

“Yebo, Nahum is a vegan!” the women informed me, pushing me towards a cutting board with vegetables piled on top.

That evening, I dined with the friendliest people I had met in South Africa. The children climbed all over me, the teenagers asked what celebrities I had met, and the adults told me about African Hebrews — the group some had joined as teenagers that influenced their decisions to become vegans. Nahum explained that the group had prepared him and his friends to adopt healthy and independent lifestyles, unlike many who ate the fried meat and dough ubiquitous in the townships. Eventually he left the group, preferring, as he put it, “the messiah within.” He had remained a vegan ever since.

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It’s one thing to be a vegan in the middle of Portland.  Another thing completely in the middle of a barren township in South Africa.  Impressed by the first homeless vegan I had ever met, I began to chat more with Nahum on our daily drives to and from the townships. He told me that life without a home was exhausting, and that he would be alright if he simply had a place – any place – to lay his head down at night. I asked my English South African housemate whether Nahum could surf our couch for a week or so. His immediate response: “No.” It didn’t surprise me. Though many young white South Africans I met recoiled at the word “racist,” they also recoiled at any suggestion of interracial living. Many had suffered multiple robberies or car-jackings and used these incidents as evidence against any real-life manifestation of South Africa’s famed “Rainbow Nation.” Though no one would say it out loud, it was clear that some white South Africans I met felt that black people had their place: in the townships.

Nahum did not want his first born to grow up in a township. For one, the murder rate is devastating. Even after apartheid ended in 1994, the number of murders in South Africa exceeded the number of American soldiers’ deaths in Vietnam – by four times. The rate of violence against women is among the highest in the world. And the schools are falling apart, attended infrequently and often taught by untrained and undereducated teachers.

Nahum wanted more, and I could not blame him. He had been through more than those of us who live in the world’s wealthier nations could imagine. So when my housemate left on a month-long business trip, I took a chance. Against my housemate’s wishes, I invited Nahum to come stay in the empty bedroom. Nahum accepted, but would not sleep in the bedroom of someone who did not want him there. “Bad vibes,” he said. He slept on the couch.

By this point, I knew Nahum well enough to be sure he wouldn’t pillage the place. What I couldn’t have expected was the supreme peace that he brought into our home. He taught me how to bake delicious vegan pizza. I helped him write a cover letter for his college application. He laughed when my wet clothes were stolen from the community washing machine and taught me how to wash clothes “the African way” — in the bathtub.

The Creators - Own the land we occupy-f1 pph

“Become the owner of the land we occupy!!”

Living with Nahum prepared me for my ultimate test as a new South African. One day I returned home to find that the external hard drive containing my documentary footage was missing. Days, weeks, months, and hundreds of hours worth of footage, gone.  Six months earlier I might have broken down and asked Nahum to leave. As it was, I muffled my gut reaction. I asked Nahum if he had seen the drive. He said no. I asked the friends who had been in my room. They all said no. I locked my remaining hard drive in my closet (I had backed up half of the footage, but only half) and went out again with Nahum the next day to start shooting all over again.

I continued to live and shoot with Nahum for about two weeks before I found out what had happened. I had racked my brain over whether to trust Nahum, and racked Nahum’s brain over whether we could trust our maid – a woman who my former housemate had hired to clean the house once a week. Nahum refused to overthink it.  He didn’t pass judgement or expend breath defending himself. He just said that he didn’t know. He didn’t show any shock or indignation over the loss.  He wasn’t unsympathetic, but his silence reflected a reality I might have otherwise overlooked. The loss of a hard drive full of documentary footage is nothing compared to real loss; the type of loss that is a fact of everyday existence for South Africans who have lost their homes, families, communities and traditions.

The next week my housemate’s maid did not come to work, but the following week she showed up. Nahum and I were out on a shoot when I received a text message from her. “I found R900 under the speaker,” she wrote. “I will place it on your desk.”

“Thank you” I wrote back. I didn’t need to ask any questions. I had not left any money under the speaker, and neither had Nahum. She certainly hadn’t placed the money there as a gift — it was more than the amount my housemate paid her each month. The R900 amounted to slightly over $100 – about the amount one might receive for a used hard drive sold on the street.

She continued to stop by each week, and I told her that it didn’t feel right for her, a young mother, to clean up after me. She said that she needed the money, and we agreed that she would stop by each week and have lunch with me instead. She continued to clean the house afterwards — she said she didn’t want to accept money for nothing — but the dynamic of our relationship changed. I learned that she was a religious woman and that her son had recently been so sick she had to take him on an expensive trip to the hospital.  Luckily, she “found” the money and he lived through the incident.  She continued to express interest in whether I was able to re-shoot the scenes I needed for my documentary.

I’ll never know what exactly happened to that hard drive, but now it is the least of my concerns. I could make the choice to mistrust my fellow people, like so many have done during apartheid and afterwards, or I could invest my trust in a new future for all.

No one could have made this more clear to me than Nahum, the producer of The Creators.  After we finished the documentary, he moved into a new home with his fiancé and their four-month-old daughter. No longer homeless or jobless, he is working professionally as a producer in the South African film industry. His daughter will grow up in a new world, with the best of guides.

Ongx Mona in Los Angeles


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Ongama (Ongx) Mona, lead singer of Warongx and founder of the Khayelitsha Music Academy

Good news for LA!  The “Ashé Africa” Initiative is generously flying Ongx all the way from Cape Town to perform at Pomona College in Los Angeles County, California, after a screening of The Creators.  Details below:

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Ongx Mona, self portrait

Below, Ongx performs in front of his artwork:

Wed., Sep. 16, 2015, 4:15 p.m. 
Film ScreeningThe Creators, the story of several South African artists and musicians. Followed by a Q&A with director/producer Laura Gamse ’07 and musician Ongx Mana. – Rose Hills Theatre

Thu., Sep. 17, 2015, 9 p.m.
Art After Hours music performance with Ongx Mona, in conjunction with a screening of The Creators – Pomona College Museum of Art


RSVP on Facebook if you will be in attendance!

Following the two events at Pomona College, Ongx will perform again after a screening of The Creators at Chapman University in Orange County:

Friday, September 18, 2015, 4 p.m.

Award-winning documentary on popular music during and after apartheid in South Africa: The Creators: South Africa through the Eyes of Its Artists, on in Argyros Forum, 209 A&B.


If the music and art aren’t enough to get you there, here’s a tongue twister:

And here is what happens when Ongx gets together with Creators’ cinematographer Bernard Myburgh:

California, see you soon!

Faith47 Paints Warwick Triangle

Kierran Allen Photography - Faith 47 -08 copy

On Warwick triangle, Faith47 says, “I’m specifically interested in exploring this notion of the informal economy.
I was struck by the potent energy of this area.  The paintings are portraits of some of the traders in the area,
a tribute to the everyday man on the street.”

faith47 - pic by Michelle Hankinson

“So much of our shared space and our city architecture is alienating to the individual.
Interventions within public spaces allow for a visual gap in which people can breathe and feel again”

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A Letter from Emile YX?


My Dear Brothers and Sisters

On the 26th & 27th July, help me fill Artscape Theater with 1500 kids who can’t afford going to the theater  Buy a R 60 ticket or 2 to BREAK & Break the norm that fuels the Cape Flats societal ills storm.

I’m trying to fill the Artscape Theater for this HIP HOP DANCE THEATER production called “BREAK” with kids that can’t afford to and never have attended Artscape Theater. We are asking people to buy tickets that we will give to kids that we work with from Blikkiesdorp, Khayelitsha, Lavender Hill, Lotus River, Manenberg, Mitchells Plain, Ceres, Atlantis etc … Tickets are R 60 each. Please forward my request to others who may be able to assist. Link to compu-ticket to buy it online. Send us the confirmation when you have purchased the ticket. I am trying to get 150 people to assist us to get 10 friends to buy a ticket each for themselves or for the kids that we or they work with.
emile jansen2
People from outside of South Africa have been finding it hard to buy BREAK tickets for kids from compu-ticket, so please Electronically Transfer your donation to:-
Name:- Heal the Hood Project
Bank:- Standard Bank
Branch:- Blue Route
Branch Code:- 025609
Account #:- 072055065
Swift Code:- SBZAZAJJ

Bringing Revolutionary Experiences Awakening KidsFirst we took them by bus to Worcester and Manenberg with “Hip Hop by Bus” and “Project Breaking”, then we took them on a walk up Table Mountain, with “Up the Rock”, then we took them surfing with our “Learn to Surf Day” and NOW, through “B.R.E.A.K” we will bring youth from the economically poorer areas to Artscape Theater to watch the Hip Hop Theater Production called BREAK.

I initially created the concept “Mixing it Up”, a Hip Hop Dance Theater Production in the hope of creating work for dancers. Last night I asked myself the question, who will they be performing for and who will be impressed the most by seeing the young dancers in this space?

Emile jansen3I suddenly realized that with “BREAK”, I also wish to create new spectators and sense of responsibility among our global community. Most of these dancers in our production have never been exposed to Hip Hop Dance Theater before, because Hip Hop and our “streets”(economically poorer communities) are seldom able to attend the theater. We now also want to break the cycle of economic exclusion that fuels the hopelessness, violence and crime on the Cape Flats. We can do this  by asking others who can, to buy tickets for kids who can’t.

Not only will “Break” be a break from the norm, break of peoples perception of what South African Hip Hop Dance is, break from stereotypes of who we are and who we have to be, but we have decided that break should also be an acronym for Bringing Revolutionary Experiences Awakening Kids. So, keeping that in mind, we are getting local and international friends and family to buy tickets and pay for transport for kids from Khayelitsha, Manenberg, Delft, Lavender Hill, Mitchells Plain, Scottsville, Bonteheuwel, Hanover Park, Hout Bay, Ocean View, Cloetesville Stellenbosch, Blikkiesdorp, etc to come and watch our creation.

We have already had purchases of tickets from the USA, Sweden, Cape Town and I have purchased 10 tickets myself to challenge others to stop complaining and take action. I ask that others also “Be the change they wish to see in the world” by buying a ticket of R60 for a kid and we can change our reality. This is not giving a man a fish, but giving them an experience they will never forget and which might change their lives forever.

“Change starts with me, my family, community, city, country, continent, world.”

Love and Light to you all,
God Bless
Emile YX?

Faith47 Fragments of a Burnt History Exhibition Extended


Faith47’s Fragments of a Burnt History, showing at David Krut Projects Parkwood from 8 November 2012 until 9 February 2013,  is comprised of an installation of found objects and artwork created in the artist’s studio, as well as a new series of monotypes produced in collaboration with the David Krut Print Workshop.

Image Image

Rowan Pybus, one of the talented cinematographers who shot The Creators, released these photos as well as a video of the exhibition. Starting in a forgotten and dusty letterpress studio and moving through the installation, the short gives the viewer a deeper understanding of this new body of work.

“[Faith47’s] sensitivity to the environments through which she moves (and to which her gallery audience most often does not have access) allows her to present observations and critiques of the realities of existence on the streets without sensationalising the very real positions of the anonymous characters that emerge in her work. Fragments of a Burnt History presents many elements of living in South Africa thatcarry with them long lists of weighty connotations – of establishment, security, spirituality and the fragility of political and ideological devices of control, often disconnected from the people they are designed to govern – the people on the streets. The installation of work communicates the emotion that Faith47 experiences in the streets, which tell her ‘a real, hard and beautifully sad story.’ The nostalgic architecture of the city is present in the work, and the sense that the ‘history of the city is etched deep into its streets’ – the works are fragments of this history, containing signs of the dynamic transition that has been, at times, reeling and painful, but has also been honest, allowing itself to be offered up for comment and consumption. The voices of the people that occupy this symbolic South African city, incorporated into Faith47’s own voice, allow her work to function as a penetrative look into the psyche of the spaces that we communally inherit.”- Jacqueline Nurse, September 2012

More photos and information on


Mthetho Maphoyi at TedxTeen: Cape Town to New York City

Mthetho blew the audience away at the 2012 TedxTeen conference in NYC.  Check out his performance below:

And watch Mthetho’s TedxTeen Talk, “The Power of Listening,” here:

(Mthetho’s name was spelled “Mteto Maphoyi” at TedxTeen…it was mistakenly spelled that way in his passport.  Mthetho himself spells his name, “Mthetho Mapoyi.”  BBC chose to spell Mthetho’s name as a combination of the two – “Mthetho Maphoyi.”  Our SEO experts advised we follow suit so that googlers can find him, and Mthetho says he doesn’t mind.)


Die Antwoord raps:


…Or 2012.  South Africa’s latest census, released October 30 2012, has a few points to make on the racism question:

To avoid playing the blame game, we’ll throw in here that according to the 2010 US Census, white families in the US make 168% what black American families make on average (and according to a recent Brandeis study, white families in the US hold an average of $95k more total wealth than black families — a gap that has more than quadrupled in the last 23 years).

While statistics like these can be daunting, we need not throw our hands up in despair.  Complicated policy arguments can distract us from a basic solution that the majority in every country favors, but neither South Africa nor the United States invests enough money, political pull or airtime in: education.  Anyone who doubts that basic education is dysfunctional South Africa need only pick up a copy of Catherine Besteman’s Transforming Cape Town:

“Of fifteen secondary schools in Khayelitsha in the year 2001, only forty-three learners from a matric group of nine thousand attempted maths as a requirement for university entrance.  Forty-three out of nine thousand. Only six people in the whole of the Western Cape — I’m talking about African language speakers — managed to get above 60 percent for maths and science.”

– John Gilmour

But enough statistics.  Here are some options for action.

For South Africans:

– Get involved with Heal the Hood (founded by The Creators‘ Emile Jansen)

– Help build The Khayelitsha Music Academy (founded by The Creators‘ Ongx Mona – more from him below)

– Volunteer with Khayelitsha’s own Baphumelele orphanage 

-Donate your bike.  The Abahlali Bikes Initiative repurposes old bicycles as pedicabs (providing much-needed jobs in the townships) and donates the rest to Baphumelele.

For those not living in South Africa:

Connect directly with any of the artists in The Creators to get involved with their current projects:

  • Emile Jansen (Emile YX?) is the founder and director of Heal the Hood.  They have programs based in the Western Cape that operate in townships throughout South Africa around the world.
  • Ongx Mona (lead singer of Warongx) founded the Khayelitsha Music Academy.  The school was recently robbed and is in the process of relocating to a safer area now.  No better time to get involved.
  • Black Pearl just released her full length album, Against All Odds, and works based in the Cape Flats as well.
  • Faith47 just opened her first solo exhibit, Fragments of a burnt history, at the David Krut Gallery in Joburg
  • Mthetho Mapoyi is studying opera at the Black Tie Ensemble in Pretoria.
  • Sweat.X continues to tear it up aurally on Bandcamp

-Donate to one of the charities recommended by The Life You Can Save.  Measure the direct impact of your donation using their Impact Calculator, developed by producer/director of The Creators Laura Gamse.

-Help build libraries in South African schools

For the faint-hearted (or shallow-pocketed):

-Donate your bike.  The Abahlali Bikes Initiative repurposes old bicycles as pedicabs and donates the rest to Khayelitsha orphanages.

– Give The Creators DVD as a gift.  75% of net proceeds go to the artists featured in the documentary and the South African crew who made the film a reality.

– Check out what the one and only Vusi Mahasela (whose music was removed from the international release of The Creators, despite the artist’s own wishes, by Sony Music earlier this year) has to say about education in South Africa.

For everyone else, here’s a deleted scene from The Creators, featuring our favorite man Ongama “Ongx” Mona:

P.S.  One last word on Die Antwoord.  Their lyrics now fit in well with the global top 40, but hopefully their master plan involves infiltrating mainstream media in order to bring billions of rands back home and start schools all over South Africa.  Let’s hope.  In the meantime, check out Waddy Jones’ much more lyrically substantial, aurally stimulating and less financially successful former project, The Constructus Corporation (which he made along with Marcus Wormstorm of Sweat.X long before The Creators was a glint in our eye).  Read the lyrics below if there’s any mystery why they’re not big on Gaga.


I don’t know if you noticed, but your planet is uh, sorta like, pretty fucked up.
Now the severely chaotic vibration caused by the slaughter of innocent sentient beings has led to this current situation.
Now unless you’ve been blessed with the ability to manipulate your destiny, stick your head back in this hole.
Part of me is like, “Pardon me, sorry to disturb your little comfort zone,”
and the rest of me is like “WAKE THE FUCK UP FOR GOODNESS SAKES!”
Don’t let you children pay for your mistakes.
The human race cannot evolve so long as they consume flesh.
Question: does your world resemble heaven or hell?
The demon people have got you trapped in their voodoo spell
We weren’t designed to exist like this
It was created in the image of an almighty compassionate entity
So it looks like we’re gonna have to rearrange things a little
So we can experience this shit like it was meant to be.


How come I can’t fly or breath under water like I can in my dreams?
Or like, communicate with animals like Adam and Eve?
These and many other exciting questions will be answered
When the power hungry uglies controlling this realm get blasted
By their own reflection
Calm minds provide protection
Neglection of your health is the best way to get swayed
Manipulated by blood spells
You eat food containing fear that’s why you’re scared
And I’m prepared for the transition from Pieces to Aquarius

I’m on a mission, steady
Hitting pressure points with pinpoint precision
‘Til they take the carrots of their fuckin’ ears and listen


I don’t really think anyone’s that different from me
We rock individually and connect invisibly
The Thunder cats on the track never skipping a beat
Fresh like an early morning skinny-dip in the sea.

“Do you hear that humming?
What are these strange tracks in the sand?
There’s something coming! Come on man, let’s get back in the van!”
Said Jim to his good friend Dr. Spock but when Spock disappeared Jim was like “What the fuck!”
He freaked out — whipped out his face and started looking around.
Little did he know that Spock was safe with us under the ground,
“Relax doctor this won’t hurt, please don’t panic!”
The beat started banging, and we began the reprogramming.
I told him not be nervous, we’d fucked with his head on purpose and sent him back to the surface with Jim
“*bah* Spock my heart!”
“Sorry captain.”
“Aw it’s fine man, what happened?”


“Sir, um why do have those two carrots stuck in your ears?”
“Uhhh, I’m sorry I can’t hear you, I’ve got these two carrots stuck in my ears…”

The Creators in OkayAfrica

The Documentary, The Creators, focuses on the different types of culture — such as break dancing and inspirational music — that boomed out of apartheid in South Africa. We were given the opportunity to talk with producer and editor of The CreatorsLaura Gamse to find out more on the movement.

Okayafrica: What goals did you have in mind when you conceptualized The Creators?
Laura GamseThe Creators was initially focused on artistic activism in South Africa. I wanted to explore whether the arts sustained a level of public consciousness that was stifled through the Bantu education system, or apartheid’s forced mis-education of the South African black and coloured (mixed-race) people. This view became complicated because some of the artists in The Creators didn’t identify with the activist label, especially after the very overt political activism South Africa became known for during the 1990s. Some artists told me that the worst crime apartheid committed was creating a society in which it was not alright to address anything besides social inequity with art; others felt that art was one of the main tools that could be used to unify a nation divided by apartheid’s segregation tactics.

The graffiti artist Faith47‘s son, Cashril+tells a story at the beginning of the documentary about a man who hunts a werewolf every day for 20 years, only to wake up in his own trap. Cashril+ was 11 at the time we filmed him, and he had a dream of this story. The metaphor of a hunter unknowingly hunting himself – or the darker aspects he embodies as a werewolf each night – could be mapped onto so many realities within South Africa (colonialism, apartheid and the creative process, for starters) that it sets the stage for the documentary in a way which acknowledges the many psychologically and physically contrasting realities portrayed in the film. In the end, the film still shows many activist artists, but the focus is on the layered realities these artists live in and actively create, and their impact on the future of South African society.

OKA: Many people view apartheid as a dark time where creativity seemed to stop. Can you further explain the importance of music and art throughout the apartheid era?
LG: There are a few songs those people should listen to which would sort them out ;). We’ve all seen debates between people from opposite extremes of the political or socio-economic spectrum. They rarely resolve differences, eh? It’s more likely that each party becomes more deeply ingrained in their own ethos. In my view, music and art lubricate what can otherwise be abrasive confrontations between opposing parties. In apartheid-era South Africa, an extreme minority of South Africans dictated the racist policies which oppressed the majority, and systematized segregation and mis-education kept most white people oblivious to the harm which was being inflicted on their fellow South Africans. Music like the Xhosa/Zulu protest song “Senzeni Na?” (“What have we done?”) and theatre like Adam Small’s Kanna hy ko Huistoe crossed the boundaries which humans were barred by law from transgressing (in the case of Small’s play, that he was barred from attending the performance because of his mixed-race identity).

The music and protest art during apartheid played a major role in establishing the humanity of those within the township to those who never brushed shoulders with them (both whites in South Africa and the international community), leading to the protests and economic sanctions which eventually fueled the transition to democracy. In modern South Africa, many artists and musicians act as the “culture-keepers”, preserving the history of South Africa pre-apartheid and pre-colonization. These history lessons were removed from school under the Bantu Education Act of the 1950s, so without music, art and the oral tradition, they might be lost.

OKA: What is the most important/interesting scene to you in the film?
LG:One of my favorite sequences is the montage of forced-segregation footage accompanied by the apartheid minister Hendrik Verwoerd‘s voice describing apartheid as a policy of “good neighborliness”. Vusi Mahlasela‘s song “Kuzobenjani Na?” (“How would it be?”) plays next over scenes of South Africans running from the bullets and tear gas of the apartheid police. In “Kuzobenjani Na?”, Vusi is imagining how it would be tomorrow if he and his lover were married, “separated only by death” — so the sequence juxtaposes two men from opposite extremes of South Africa (one the architect of apartheid, the other oppressed by its policies) hopefully imagining two beautiful futures, neither of which will materialize as a result of the reality of apartheid-driven violence and dehumanization.

It sounds complicated but the actual sequence goes by so quickly, few audiences (and probably only those who speak Zulu) catch it. You can watch it in the middle of the historical section of the film. Ironically, the apartheid footage is owned by some nameless figures who ran apartheid state television, and the footage is prohibitively expensive to buy for an independent film like The Creators. And though Vusi himself and his manager agreed to include “Kuzobenjani Na?” in the documentary, Sony Music recently sent me a demand that I discontinue its use in the film (and send them a profits statement, of course. Luckily we have no profits!). So this scene probably won’t live to see distribution.

OKA: What is the most unexpected thing people will discover about the township through your film?
LG:Hopefully audiences will discover incredible music and art that they didn’t know existed, coming from what some might consider the least likely of circumstances.

OKA: Did apartheid stunt, or evolve the arts in South Africa?
LG:I would say that the arts evolved during and as a result of apartheid. I don’t know if there is anything that can cause art to regress (though I know some regimes have given artists solitary confinement as an attempt to stifle creativity). Had apartheid not existed, the arts in South Africa would have evolved in a different manner. The most apparent difference might have been instrumental musicians (choir music was vivified by apartheid, you could say, because musicians in poverty can’t afford instruments but everyone has a voice). We’ll never know what sort of art and music (and technology and inventions) would have come out of a South Africa without apartheid. I guess we’re exploring that now.

OKA: How does the legacy of apartheid influence today’s younger musicians? Like Spoek Mathambo, featured in your film.
LG:In so many ways, it’s not possible to generalize. You can see Spoek riff on the stereotypes in stuff like his H.I.V.I.P. mixtapes with Sweat.X. Spoek answers this question directly in The Creators, so let me not put too many words in his mouth. Some approach the issues directly likeEmile YX?: (“We completed black schooling, or should I call it black fooling? The cherry on the cake was giving us token black ruling.”) and others choose to ignore or talk around them (like Watkin Tudor Jones, better known nowadays as half of Die Antwoord). Some kids who would otherwise be prodigies don’t own instruments or art supplies. Others with no talent inherited extravagant amounts of wealth and have thriving careers.

OKA: The film has won many awards and has received positive attention, where do you hope to take it next?
LG:We’ve just been picked up in Europe by EastWest distribution, which is exciting. Still looking for North American distribution. My favorite screenings are in schools and universities. I’d like to get more of those going on, in the townships and prisons, community screenings in places where you might not expect to see the film. This Sunday we’re screening at Madiba restaurant in Brooklyn – I’d love to do more events like that.


Transition Economics: The transfer of power from apartheid to democracy, and all the caveats that came with it…

“We are limited in South Africa because our democratic Government
inherited a debt which at the time we were servicing at the rate of 30
billion rand a year. That is thirty billion we did not have to build
houses, to make sure our children go to the best schools, and to ensure
that everybody has the dignity of having a job and a decent income.”
Nelson Mandela

Considering the socioeconomic complications of post-apartheid South Africa, there isn’t much talk about the details of the transition from apartheid state to democracy.  Many in South Africa and around the world still ask: What exactly led the National Party to give up power?  Was it the political protests?  The global economic sanctions?  The massive debt accumulated by the apartheid state?  And why hasn’t progress been more palpable for the millions of poor South Africans who fought for freedom?  Is government corruption at fault?  The HIV/AIDS epidemic?  The fear of the country turning into “another Zimbabwe” or the bureaucratic realities of land reform ?

Naomi Klein asked many of these questions, exploring information about the handover of power that is often overlooked in discussions about South Africa’s modern struggle.  Below is a condensed excerpt from Klein’s The Shock Doctrine in which she contemplates the legacy of the Freedom Charter, accompanied by photos from Faith47’s incredible Freedom Charter series:

“In January 1990, Nelson Mandela, age seventy-one, sat down in his prison compound to write a note to his supporters outside. It was meant to settle a debate over whether twenty-seven years behind bars, most of it spent on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, had weakened the leader’s commitment to the economic transformation of South Africa’s apartheid state. The note was only two sentences long, and it decisively put the matter to rest: “The nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is the policy of the ANC, and the change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable. Black economic empowerment is a goal we fully support and encourage, but in our situation state control of certain sectors of the economy is unavoidable.”3

History, it turned out, was not over just yet, as Fukuyama had claimed. In South Africa, the largest economy on the African continent, it seemed that some people still believed that freedom included the right to reclaim and redistribute their oppressors’ ill-gotten gains.

That belief had formed the basis of the policy of the African National Congress for thirty-five years, ever since it was spelled out in its statement of core principles, the Freedom Charter…The process began in 1955, when the party dispatched fifty thousand volunteers into the townships and countryside. The task of the volunteers was to collect “freedom demands” from the people—their vision of a post-apartheid world in which all South Africans had equal rights. The demands were handwritten on scraps of paper: “Land to be given to all landless people,” “Living wages and shorter hours of work,” “Free and compulsory education, irrespective of colour, race or nationality,” “The right to reside and move about freely” and many more.4 When the demands came back, leaders of the African National Congress synthesized them into a final document, which was officially adopted on June 26, 1955, at the Congress of the People, held in Kliptown, a “buffer zone” township built to protect the white residents of Johannesburg from the teeming masses of Soweto. Roughly three thousand delegates— black, Indian, “coloured” and a few white—sat together in an empty field to vote on the contents of the document. According to Nelson Mandela’s account of the historic Kliptown gathering, “the charter was read aloud, section by section, to the people in English, Sesotho and Xhosa. After each section, the crowd shouted its approval with cries of ‘Afrika!’ and ‘Mayibuye!’”5 The first defiant demand of the Freedom Charter reads, “The People Shall Govern!”

Photo by Rowan Pybus

…What the Freedom Charter asserted was the baseline consensus in the liberation movement that freedom would not come merely when blacks took control of the state but when the wealth of the land that had been illegitimately confiscated was reclaimed and redistributed to the society as a whole. South Africa could no longer be a country with Californian living standards for whites and Congolese living standards for blacks, as the country was described during the apartheid years; freedom meant that it would have to find something in the middle.

That was what Mandela was confirming with his two-sentence note from prison: he still believed in the bottom line that there would be no freedom without redistribution. With so many other countries now also “in transition,” it was a statement with enormous implications. If Mandela led the ANC to power and nationalized the banks and the mines, the precedent would make it far more difficult for Chicago School economists to dismiss such proposals in other countries as relics of the past and insist that only unfettered free markets and free trade had the ability to redress deep inequalities.

On February 11, 1990, two weeks after writing that note, Mandela walked out of prison a free man, as close to a living saint as existed anywhere in the world. South Africa’s townships exploded in celebration and renewed conviction that nothing could stop the struggle for liberation. Unlike the movement in Eastern Europe, South Africa’s was not beaten down but a movement on a roll. Mandela, for his part, was suffering from such an epic case of culture shock that he mistook a camera microphone for “some newfangled weapon developed while I was in prison.”8

The ANC went into negotiations with the ruling National Party determined to avoid the kind of nightmare that neighbouring Mozambique had experienced when the independence movement forced an end to Portuguese colonial rule in 1975. On their way out the door, the Portuguese threw a vindictive temper tantrum, pouring cement down elevator shafts, smashing tractors and stripping the country of all they could carry. To its enormous credit, the ANC did negotiate a relatively peaceful handover. However, it did not manage to prevent South Africa’s apartheid-era rulers from wreaking havoc on their way out the door. Unlike their counterparts in Mozambique, the National Party didn’t pour concrete—their sabotage, equally crippling, was far subtler, and was all in the fine print of those historic negotiations.

The talks that hashed out the terms of apartheid’s end took place on two parallel tracks that often intersected: one was political, the other economic. Most of the attention, naturally, focused on the high-profile political summits between Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, leader of the National Party.

De Klerk’s strategy in these negotiations was to preserve as much power as possible. He tried everything—breaking the country into a federation,

guaranteeing veto power for minority parties, reserving a certain percentage of the seats in government structures for each ethnic group—anything to prevent simple majority rule, which he was sure would lead to mass land expropriations and the nationalizing of corporations. As Mandela later put it, “What the National Party was trying to do was to maintain white supremacy with our consent.” De Klerk had guns and money behind him, but his opponent had a movement of millions. Mandela and his chief negotiator, Cyril Ramaphosa, won on almost every count.9

Running alongside these often explosive summits were the much lower profile economic negotiations, primarily managed on the ANC side by Thabo Mbeki, then a rising star in the party…South Africa’s whites had failed to keep blacks from taking over the government, but when it came to safeguarding the wealth they had amassed under apartheid, they would not give up so easily.

In these talks, the de Klerk government had a twofold strategy. First, drawing on the ascendant Washington Consensus that there was now only one way to run an economy, it portrayed key sectors of economic decision making—such as trade policy and the central bank—as “technical” or “administrative.” Then it used a wide range of new policy tools—international trade agreements, innovations in constitutional law and structural adjustment programs—to hand control of those power centres to supposedly impartial experts, economists and officials from the IMF, the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the National Party—anyone except the liberation fighters from the ANC. It was a strategy of balkanization, not of the country’s geography (as de Klerk had originally attempted) but of its economy.

This plan was successfully executed under the noses of ANC leaders, who were naturally preoccupied with winning the battle to control Parliament. In the process, the ANC failed to protect itself against a far more insidious strategy—in essence, an elaborate insurance plan against the economic clauses in the Freedom Charter ever becoming law in South Africa. “The people shall govern!” would soon become a reality, but the sphere over which they would govern was shrinking fast…

“We were caught completely off guard,” recalled Padayachee, now in his early fifties. He had done his graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He knew that at the time, even among free-market economists in the U.S., central bank independence was considered a fringe idea, a pet policy of a handful of Chicago School ideologues who believed that central banks should be run as sovereign republics within states, out of reach of the meddling hands of elected lawmakers.*,10 For Padayachee and his colleagues, who strongly believed that monetary policy needed to serve the new government’s “big goals of growth, employment and redistribution,” the ANC’s position was a no-brainer: “There was not going to be an independent central bank in South Africa…”

Padayachee and a colleague stayed up all night writing a paper that gave the negotiating team the arguments it needed to resist this curveball from the National Party. If the central bank (in South Africa called the Reserve Bank) was run separately from the rest of the government, it could restrict the ANC’s ability to keep the promises in the Freedom Charter. Besides, if the central bank was not accountable to the ANC government, to whom, exactly, would it be accountable? The IMF? The Johannesburg Stock Exchange? Obviously, the National Party was trying to find a backdoor way to hold on to power even after it lost the elections—a strategy that needed to be resisted at all costs. “They were locking in as much as possible,” Padayachee recalled. “That was a clear part of the agenda.”

Padayachee faxed the paper in the morning and didn’t hear back for weeks. “Then, when we asked what happened, we were told, ‘Well, we gave that one up.’” Not only would the central bank be run as an autonomous entity within the South African state, with its independence enshrined in the new constitution, but it would be headed by the same man who ran it under apartheid, Chris Stals. It wasn’t just the central bank that the ANC had given up: in another major concession, Derek Keyes, the white finance minister under apartheid, would also remain in his post—much as the finance ministers and central bank heads from Argentina’s dictatorship somehow managed to get their jobs back under democracy. The New York Times praised Keyes as “the country’s ranking apostle of low-spending business-friendly government.”11

What happened in those negotiations is that the ANC found itself caught in a new kind of web, one made of arcane rules and regulations, all designed to confine and constrain the power of elected leaders. As the web descended on the country, only a few people even noticed it was there, but when the new government came to power and tried to move freely, to give its voters the tangible benefits of liberation they expected and thought they had voted for, the strands of the web tightened and the administration discovered that its powers were tightly bound. Patrick Bond, who worked as an economic adviser in Mandela’s office during the first years of ANC rule, recalls that the in-house quip was “Hey, we’ve got the state, where’s the power?” As the new government attempted to make tangible the dreams of the Freedom Charter, it discovered that the power was elsewhere.

Want to redistribute land? Impossible—at the last minute, the negotiators agreed to add a clause to the new constitution that protects all private property, making land reform virtually impossible. Want to create jobs for millions of unemployed workers? Can’t—hundreds of factories were actually about to close because the ANC had signed on to the GATT, the precursor to the World Trade Organization, which made it illegal to subsidize the auto plants and textile factories. Want to get free AIDS drugs to the townships, where the disease is spreading with terrifying speed? That violates an intellectual property rights commitment under the WTO, which the ANC joined with no public debate as a continuation of the GATT. Need money to build more and larger houses for the poor and to bring free electricity to the townships? Sorry—the budget is being eaten up servicing the massive debt, passed on quietly by the apartheid government. Print more money? Tell that to the apartheid-era head of the central bank. Free water for all? Not likely. The World Bank, with its large in-country contingent of economists, researchers and trainers (a self-proclaimed “Knowledge Bank”), is making private-sector partnerships the service norm. Want to impose currency controls to guard against wild speculation? That would violate the $850 million IMF deal, signed, conveniently enough, right before the elections. Raise the minimum wage to close the apartheid income gap? Nope. The IMF deal promises “wage restraint.”12 And don’t even think about ignoring these commitments— any change will be regarded as evidence of dangerous national untrustworthiness, a lack of commitment to “reform,” an absence of a “rules-based system.” All of which will lead to currency crashes, aid cuts and capital flight. The bottom line was that South Africa was free but simultaneously captured; each one of these arcane acronyms represented a different thread in the web that pinned down the limbs of the new government.

A long-time anti-apartheid activist, Rassool Snyman, described the trap to me in stark terms. “They never freed us. They only took the chain from around our neck and put it on our ankles.” Yasmin Sooka, a prominent South African human rights activist, told me that the transition “was business saying, ‘We’ll keep everything and you [the ANC] will rule in name. . . . You can have political power, you can have the façade of governing, but the real governance will take place somewhere else.’” , 13 It was a process of infantilization that is common to so-called transitional countries—new governments are, in effect, given the keys to the house but not the combination to the safe…

In the first two years of ANC rule, the party still tried to use the limited resources it had to make good on the promise of redistribution. There was a flurry of public investment—more than a hundred thousand homes were built for the poor, and millions were hooked up to water, electricity and phone lines.14 But, in a familiar story, weighed down by debt and under international pressure to privatize these services, the government soon began raising prices. After a decade of ANC rule, millions of people had been cut off from newly connected water and electricity because they couldn’t pay the bills. At least 40 percent of the new phones lines were no longer in service by 2003.15 As for the “banks, mines and monopoly industry” that Mandela had pledged to nationalize, they remained firmly in the hands of the same four white-owned mega-conglomerates that also control 80 percent of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.16 In 2005, only 4 percent of the companies listed on the exchange were owned or controlled by blacks.17 Seventy percent of South Africa’s land, in 2006, was still monopolized by whites, who are just 10 percent of the population.18 Most distressingly, the ANC government has spent far more time denying the severity of the AIDS crisis than getting lifesaving drugs to the approximately 5 million people infected with HIV, though there were, by early 2007, some positive signs of progress.19 Perhaps the most striking statistic is this one: since 1990, the year Mandela left prison, the average life expectancy for South Africans has dropped by thirteen years.20

Photo by Rowan Pybus

Underlying all these facts and figures is a fateful choice made by the ANC after the leadership realized it had been outmanoeuvred in the economic negotiations. At that point, the party could have attempted to launch a second liberation movement and break free of the asphyxiating web that had been spun during the transition. Or it could simply accept its restricted power and embrace the new economic order. The ANC’s leadership chose the second option. Rather than making the centrepiece of its policy the redistribution of wealth that was already in the country— the core of the Freedom Charter on which it had been elected—the ANC, once it because the government, accepted the dominant logic that its only hope was to pursue new foreign investors who would create new wealth, the benefits of which would trickle down to the poor. But for the trickle-down model to have a hope of working, the ANC government had to radically alter its behaviour to make itself appealing to investors.

This was not an easy task, as Mandela had learned when he walked out of prison. As soon as he was released, the South African stock market collapsed in panic; South Africa’s currency, the rand, dropped by 10 percent.21 A few weeks later, De Beers, the diamond corporation, moved its headquarters from South Africa to Switzerland.22 This kind of instant punishment from the markets would have been unimaginable three decades earlier, when Mandela was first imprisoned. In the sixties, it was unheard of for multinationals to switch nationalities on a whim and, back then, the world money system was still firmly linked to the gold standard. Now South Africa’s currency had been stripped of controls, trade barriers were down, and most trading was short-term speculation.

Not only did the volatile market not like the idea of a liberated Mandela, but just a few misplaced words from him or his fellow ANC leaders could lead to an earth-shaking stampede by what the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has aptly termed “the electronic herd.”23 The stampede that greeted Mandela’s release was just the start of what became a call-and-response between the ANC leadership and the financial markets—a shock dialogue that trained the party in the new rules of the game. Every time a top party official said something that hinted that the ominous Freedom Charter might still become policy, the market responded with a shock, sending the rand into free fall. The rules were simple and crude, the electronic equivalent of monosyllabic grunts: justice—expensive, sell; status quo—good, buy. When, shortly after his release, Mandela once again spoke out in favour of nationalization at a private lunch with leading businessmen, “the All-Gold Index plunged by 5 per cent.”24

Even moves that seemed to have nothing to do with the financial world but betrayed some latent radicalism seemed to provoke a market jolt. When Trevor Manuel, an ANC minister, called rugby in South Africa a “white minority game” because its team was an all-white one, the rand took another hit.25

…Rather than calling for the nationalization of the mines, Mandela and Mbeki began meeting regularly with Harry Oppenheimer, former chairman of the mining giants Anglo- American and De Beers, the economic symbols of apartheid rule. Shortly after the 1994 election, they even submitted the ANC’s economic program to Oppenheimer for approval and made several key revisions to address his concerns, as well as those of other top industrialists.

28 Hoping to avoid getting another shock from the market, Mandela, in his first post-election interview as president, carefully distanced himself from his previous statements favouring nationalization. “In our economic policies . . . there is not a single reference to things like nationalization, and this is not accidental,” he said. “There is not a single slogan that will connect us with any Marxist ideology.” §, 29 The financial press offered steady encouragement for this conversion: “Though the ANC still has a powerful leftist wing,” the Wall Street Journal observed, “Mr. Mandela has in recent days sounded more like Margaret Thatcher than the socialist revolutionary he was once thought to be.”30

The memory of its radical past still clung to the ANC, and despite the new government’s best efforts to appear unthreatening, the market kept inflicting its painful shocks: in a single month in 1996, the rand dropped 20 percent, and the country continued to hemorrhage capital as South Africa’s jittery rich moved their money offshore.31

…In South Africa only a handful of Mbeki’s closest colleagues even knew that a new economic program was in the works, one very different from the promises they had all made during the 1994 elections. Of the people on the team, Gumede writes, “all were sworn to secrecy and the entire process was shrouded in deepest confidentiality lest the left wing get wind of Mbeki’s plan.”

…In June 1996, Mbeki unveiled the results: it was a neo-liberal shock therapy program for South Africa, calling for more privatization, cutbacks to government spending, labour “flexibility,” freer trade and even looser controls on money flows. According to Gelb, its overriding aim “was to signal to potential investors the government’s (and specifically the ANC’s) commitment to the prevailing orthodoxy.”34 To make sure the message was loud and clear to traders in New York and London, at the public launch of the plan, Mbeki quipped, “Just call me a Thatcherite.”35

Shock therapy is always a market performance—that is part of its underlying theory. The stock market loves overhyped, highly managed moments that send stock prices soaring, usually provided by an initial public stock offering, the announcement of a huge merger or the hiring of a celebrity CEO. When economists urge countries to announce a sweeping shock therapy package, the advice is partially based on an attempt to imitate this kind of high-drama market event and trigger a stampede—but rather than selling an individual stock, they are selling a country. The hoped-for response is “Buy Argentine stocks!” “Buy Bolivian bonds!” A slower, more careful approach, on the other hand, may be less brutal, but it deprives the market of these hype-bubbles, during which the real money gets made. Shock therapy is always a significant gamble, and in South Africa it didn’t work: Mbeki’s grand gesture failed to attract long-term investment; it resulted only in speculative betting that ended up devaluing the currency even further…

Some commissioners felt that multinational corporations that had benefited from apartheid should be forced to pay reparations. In the end the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made the modest recommendation of a one-time 1 percent corporate tax to raise money for the victims, what it called “a solidarity tax.” Sooka expected support for this mild recommendation from the ANC; instead, the government, then headed by Mbeki, rejected any suggestion of corporate reparations or a solidarity tax, fearing that it would send an anti-business message to the market. “The president decided not to hold business accountable,” Sooka told me. “It was that simple.” In the end, the government put forward a fraction of what had been requested, taking the money out of its own budget, as the commissioners had feared.

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is frequently held up as a model of successful “peace building,” exported to other conflict zones from Sri Lanka to Afghanistan. But many of those who were directly involved in the process are deeply ambivalent. When he unveiled the final report in March 2003, the commission’s chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, confronted journalists with freedom’s unfinished business. “Can you explain how a black person wakes up in a squalid ghetto today, almost 10 years after freedom? Then he goes to work in town, which is still largely white, in palatial homes. And at the end of the day, he goes back home to squalor? I don’t know why those people don’t just say, ‘To hell with peace. To hell with Tutu and the truth commission.’”36

“The fact that the ANC dismissed the Commission’s call for corporate reparations is particularly unfair, Sooka pointed out, because the government continues to pay the apartheid debt. In the first years after the handover, it cost the new government 30 billion rand annually (about $4.5 billion) in servicing—a sum that provides a stark contrast with the paltry total of $85 million that the government ultimately paid out to more than nineteen thousand victims of apartheid killings and torture and their families. Nelson Mandela has cited the debt burden as the single greatest obstacle to keeping the promises of the Freedom Charter. “That is 30 billion [rand] we did not have to build houses as we planned, before we came into government, to make sure that our children go to the best schools, that unemployment is properly addressed and that everybody has the dignity of having a job, a decent income, of being able to provide shelter to his beloved, to feed them. . . . We are limited by the debt that we inherited.”37

…What makes the ANC’s decision to keep paying the debt so infuriating to activists like Brutus is the tangible sacrifice made to meet each payment. For instance, between 1997 and 2004, the South African government sold eighteen state-owned firms, raising $4 billion, but almost half the money went to servicing the debt.38 In other words, not only did the ANC renege on Mandela’s original pledge of “the nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industry” but because of the debt, it was doing the opposite—selling off national assets to make good on the debts of its oppressors.

Then there is the matter of where, precisely, the money is going. During the transition negotiations, F.W. de Klerk’s team demanded that all civil servants be guaranteed their jobs even after the handover; those who wanted to leave, they argued, should receive hefty lifelong pensions. This was an extraordinary demand in a country with no social safety net to speak of, yet it was one of several “technical” issues on which the ANC ceded ground.39 The concession meant that the new ANC government carried the cost of two governments— its own, and a shadow white government that was out of power. Forty percent of the government’s annual debt payments go to the country’s massive pension fund. The vast majority of the beneficiaries are former apartheid employees.**, 40

In the end, South Africa has wound up with a twisted case of reparations in reverse, with the white businesses that reaped enormous profits from black labour during the apartheid years paying not a cent in reparations, but the victims of apartheid continuing to send large paycheques to their former victimizers. And how do they raise the money for this generosity? By stripping the state of its assets through privatization—a modern form of the very looting that the ANC had been so intent on avoiding when it agreed to negotiations, hoping to prevent a repeat of Mozambique. Unlike what happened in Mozambique, however, where civil servants broke machinery, stuffed their pockets and then fled, in South Africa the dismantling of the state and the pillaging of its coffers continue to this day.”

– Naomi Klein, Democracy Born in Chains