ANC’s support for Shell is a direct breach of the Freedom Charter

“If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government.” — Nelson Mandela

Dear honourable ANC leaders (I haven’t earned the right to call you comrades)

Have you forgotten your mandate?

In your own words, you were founded on the principles of fundamental political, social and economic change. As the Freedom Charter states: “The mineral wealth beneath the soil… shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole and that all people shall be entitled to take part in the administration of the country.” And so I ask, where are your guiding principles now? 

The people are speaking. And you are not listening. 

Minster of Energy Gwede Mantashe speaks of a “special type of apartheid” when defending the activities of Shell. Yet I can’t help but to draw comparisons to the colonisation of South Africa by European countries. As history has shown us, when a large eurocentric company begins work with the promise of job creation, the only jobs that are created for locals are in the form of manual labour. This is the exact same system that the apartheid government employed, designed to destroy the lives of the majority of South Africans. The exact system that the ANC fought. 

As Barry Wugale notes in his open letter to Mantashe, Shell (and others) were seen by the ANC as “synonymous with the military machinery of the apartheid regime” and that Shell particularly aided apartheid. If the actions of your own party, your leaders, your founding principles are how we measure whether you have succeeded in your mandate, then you are failing dismally. 

In history, the ANC has been brutally honest and forthright in its opposition to big oil companies. These companies supported and were historically aligned with the apartheid government, and rather than acknowledge and make reparations they once again ravage our soil. The local communities you argue should benefit from this work are the same communities that bear the scars of the violence that companies like Shell supported. Have you forgotten the words of Steve Biko? “Nothing can justify the arrogant assumption that a clique of foreigners has the right to decide on the lives of a majority.”

Perhaps you can explain. If the guiding principle is that the people are entitled to be a part of the administration of the country, then why are their voices being insulted? These people carry the pain of history. These people hold the scars you seem to have forgotten. The voices of this protest have been united, across ages, wealth groups and race. Your mandate is to be the representatives of these voices. To make the decisions based on the good of the country, not on your personal interests and greed.

Your arguments, and that of Mantashe in particular, are reminiscent of the arguments of “white monopoly capital a term coined by UK-based public relations company Bell Pottinger in order to disguise the rampant pillaging of the Jacob Zuma administration. An administration that you took control from with promises of better. This country and these people celebrated your administration. You are betraying them. As Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said: “We learn from history that we don’t learn from history”. 

The investment arm of the ANC, the Batho Batho Trust, has a 51% percent stake in Shell’s black economic empowerment partner, the Thebe Investment Corporation. In any other field this would be called a conflict of interest. In this instance a more accurate description would be deceit or theft. 

I am not naive enough to think that this letter is going to make a change in your thinking, when you are ignoring the voice of thousands. And unlike you, I certainly have no mandate to speak for the people. Unlike you, I am still listening. When history looks back at this time in South Africa, let them not find that, in ignoring the voice of the people, those in the ANC government became what they set out to defeat.

In defending the actions of Shell and of big oil in general you are directly opposing the Freedom Charter. You are transferring the mineral wealth beneath the soil away from the people. What you’ve neglected to share over is that you are transferring it to yourselves. 

You are correct, Mantashe. This is a special type of apartheid. I just think you find yourself on the wrong side of the fight.

Keep the powerful accountable

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Michael Brown
Michael Brown is a PhD candidate at the University of the Western Cape specialising in marine biology

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