Book Review: “South Africa’s Corporatised Liberation” by Dale McKinley


The past few years have been characterised by the failures of the African National Congress (ANC), both in terms of individual leaders and policy. Corruption has been a defining characteristic of ANC governance, whether it be serious allegations levied at the President or the annual Auditor General’s highlighting of the extent of the rot in our municipalities. Simultaneously we see rampant service delivery protests, students complaining not only of the cost of higher education in the country but of the vary basis of the post-94 dispensation. It is in the context of this dysfunction that Dale McKinley writes his critique of the ANC in power titled “South Africa’s Corporatized Liberation: A Critical Analysis of the ANC in Power”.

The House Metaphor and Corporatisation

McKinley’s book relies on two rhetorical devices; “the House metaphor” and a multi-faceted definition of “corporatisation”. In the House metaphor South Africa is described as being a house built on foundations of systematic racism, inequality and political oppression. The National Party (NP) became the political landlords of the house and further entrenched the foundations throughout the rest of the house. After years of struggle the ANC won over political control of the house, making cosmetic changes as time went on but the foundations remained. To explain how this process occurred McKinley describes the ANC as having corporatised the liberation project.

In short this corporatisation relies on two factors: firstly that the ANC operates as if it were a corporation with its top down organisational structure and secondly that the ANC’s policies have been in the interest of corporations in general.

The Corporatised Ideology of the ANC

Interestingly McKinley identifies this corporatisation as not being a recent phenomena but rather one that dates back to ANC’s early days as a liberation movement. Examples of this include a reminder of the fact that the early ANC advocated for the inclusion of “civilised blacks” into higher echelons of the British Colony. This along with a litany of quotes from individual leaders and official party documents, serve to remind us that the ANC’s primary concern was not dismantling capitalism but rather instilling a “de-racialised capitalism”. As a result of this commitment to a de-racialised capitalism South Africa has seen the emergence of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and subsequently Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE), neither of which has achieved their stated aims of empowering black people across the board. Beyond this policy in general has served the interests of various factions of capital, with the specific faction being context dependant.

The “corporate structure of the ANC”

To McKinley the ANC’s corporatisation is further highlighted by the party’s structures. The ANC employs a top down approach to all aspects of its governance, which removes any semblance of institutional democracy. Party decisions do not come from the bottom to the top rather they flow from the top to the bottom. McKinley considers this to be a consequence of a vangaurdist approach adopted by the party. Party policy formulations are the clearest example of this authoritarian streak.

The corporatised ideology and corporate structure of the ANC together have led to some of the worst policy of the past 23 years. The most glaring example of this being the adoption of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy. The previous policy proposals of the Macro-Economic Research Group (MERG) and the ANC’s de facto election manifesto Redistribution and Development Plan (RDP) where thrown out without consultation. In their place the ANC top brass led by Mbeki offered GEAR as a non-negotiable policy. GEAR was essentially a self-imposed structural adjustment program. This and many other decisions made by the ANC are to McKinley a manifestation of the ANC’s Corporatised Liberation. The policy was adopted as though the ANC was a corporation with virtually no input from below and primarily served the interests of various factions of capital.

A Brief Comment on the Book in General.

That the book is a valuable resource for anyone seeking a better understanding of the ANC in power is a given. Every level of government, from local government all the way to the presidency are effectively assessed in line with the framework of corporatisation that McKinley offers early in the book. The book is well researched and written in a highly accessible manner. McKinley does not limit himself to criticism but also offers number of alternatives to the status quo, particularly in the advocacy of participatory democracy as an alternative to the ANC’s centralisation of power.

There is a ‘but’ involved, particularly to do with the logic of framing a seemingly consistent party position of ‘corporatisation’ as some sort of sell out when the party acts in accordance with this alleged position when they finally assume power. This is true whether it be in the case of pro-capital policy or the centralisation of power within the party. The line of criticism would more be more accurate when referring to the ANC’s alliance partners the SACP and COSATU.

The SACP’s undemocratic characteristics or the inconsistencies in Trade Unions purportedly being anti-capitalist but playing the stock market to the benefit of senior leadership and other critiques of the ‘left’ in the alliance are some of the strongest aspects of the book. In light of this, perhaps McKinley’s next book should be titled “The Paradoxical Vanguard: A Critical Analysis of the Left in the Tripartite Alliance


Reviewed by Rekang Jankie