Capital accumulation in South Africa started off as a process of ‘accumulation by dispossession’ (Harvey, 2010: 48–49). War, violence, predation, thievery, criminality, fraud … these were the means by which the indigenous people were dispossessed of their communal lands, and by which the basis to wealth in this country passed into the hands of the capitalists.
South Africa was incorporated into the world economy as an enclave – as a colonial economy established by imperialist class interests primarily for the exploitation of its raw material resources (Mhone, 2001). Our economy was typically characterised by a capital-intensive sector co-existing with a capital-starved traditional economy. Although often described as ‘dual’, they are by no means ‘separate’. The capitalist sector, particularly the gold mining industry, was critically dependent on the traditional economy for the ongoing supply of ‘ultra-cheap, ultra-exploitable’ supplies of labour (Johnstone, 1976). By providing a subsistence base, the traditional economy in effect lowered the minimal acceptable wage threshold of labour (Wallerstein, 2003), thereby ensuring the very existence and sustainability of the capitalist system in this country.
Herein lies the root of our so-called National Question for, historically, class rule in South Africa has been about institutionalising ‘systems of duality’ in our society in order to extend and maintain the conditions of exploitation. It is against this background that divide and rule as a fundamental mechanism of class rule needs to be understood.
Capitalism's interests were served by dividing the nation, by perpetuating a core-periphery duality in society and the economy.
Historically, this has created the conditions of struggle in South Africa. It explains why opposition that was predicated on the principle of ‘one single South African nation’ has had revolutionary implications – why a call for a non-racial democracy was a fundamental threat to the very basis of capital accumulation.