South Africa's left

jenyan1 jenyan1 at
Fri Dec 15 12:27:13 MST 2000

        South Africa's left discusses way

                          Green Left Weekly's
                          MARINA CARMAN
                          travelled to South
                          Africa in October and
                          talked with a number of
                          left activists about their
                          views on the way
                          forward for the left.
                          DALE MCKINLEY,
                          former chairperson of
                          the Johannesburg
                          Central branch of the
                          South African
                          Communist Party
                          (SACP), was expelled
    from the party after he wrote articles critical of the
    ANC government's policies and the role of SACP
    cabinet ministers in implementing them. GEORGE
    DOR, from Johannesburg, is a key activist with the
    Alternative Information and Development Centre
    which campaigns against capitalist globalisation
    and for the cancellation of South Africa's debts
    that were accumulated by the apartheid regime.
    SALIM VALLY, from Johannesburg, is a leader of
    the Workers Organisation for Socialist Action
    (WOSA). ANNA WEEKES, from Cape Town, is
    media spokesperson for the South African
    Municipal Workers Union (her comments here
    represent her personal views, not those of
    Johannesburg, is the SACP's media and
    publications officer. HEINRICH BOHMKE, from
    Durban, is a prominent human rights lawyer.

    What is your opinion of the direction of the
    African National Congress (ANC) since it came to
    power in 1994?

    McKinley: The trajectory of the ANC government has
    been clear and fairly consistent since 1994. One has
    to look at this in the historical context of the ANC's
    petty bourgeois leadership. Prior to 1994, the ANC
    was already charting a strategic path to a
    de-racialised capitalist South Africa. Most of us
    thought that the ANC would combine this with various
    social democratic measures aimed at ameliorating
    inequality. The ANC promised to implement this
    combination with the RDP [Reconstruction and
    Development Program].

    But once it was comfortably in government, the ANC
    shifted quickly to an overt pro-capitalist
    macro-economic policy with the Growth Employment
    and Redistribution [GEAR] program. The ANC came
    out of the class closet. Over the last four years, the
    ANC has implemented a policy which is based on
    fostering a new black middle and capitalist class,
    giving sops to the working class and the poor, but
    following the general framework of neo-liberalism.

                     Dor: Since the election of the
                     ANC-led government there
                     are more social and democratic
                     rights, but alongside this has
                     been a shift towards
                     neo-liberal economic policies.

                     The old white bureaucrats and
                     new black bureaucrats, in
                     collaboration with the World
                     Bank, have been quite
    influential. Six months after the 1994 election, we had
    a World Bank-drafted water provision policy based
    on full cost recovery from each poor community.
    Right from the start, the ANC went against the people
    and against its mandate. GEAR is a home-grown
    structural adjustment program. It relies on private
    sector growth, a concentration on boosting exports
    and foreign direct investment, and cutting social
    spending by government. More than 500,000 jobs
    have been lost since 1996. In many cases people are
    worse off than ever.

    Vally: After 1994, it could have gone another way but
    the left wasn't strong enough. There has always been
    the possibility of a coming together of the interests of
    the African nationalists and the Afrikaner nationalists.

    GEAR is not simply an economic program but a
    political one. Those who benefit are the white
    capitalist class, a black middle class, the nascent black
    capitalist class and international capital.

    Weekes: The main problem for the trade union
    movement has been GEAR. Major privatisations will go
    ahead after the local government elections on
    December 5. There is a culture of the unions not
    criticising the government. Meanwhile, the
    ANC-controlled Johannesburg council has just
    pushed through the worst privatisation program and
    union-bashing campaign that we have ever seen.

                           Jara: The ANC
                           government is the first
                           democratic government
                           South Africa has ever
                           had. It represents
                           traditions and
                           experience of the
                           struggle against
                           apartheid. But the
                           government also exists
                           in a globalising
                           international economy
                           which creates pressures
                           on those with the
                           objective of radical

    The ANC is a multi-class force, and its politics are
    contested. Some of its policy positions reflect this,
    such as GEAR. Generally, the thinking in the SACP is
    that this is not inevitable.

    Bohmke: Things for ordinary people are worse
    economically than they were in 1988. There are
    greater political rights, for sure, but you can't enjoy
    those while you don't have water, electricity or have

    The ANC is now even beginning to abandon its radical
    rhetoric. It is also polishing its role as a sub-regional
    power within the grand capitalist order. There are
    sprawling townships which are as bad as ever, and

    Race is used as a cover behind which the black elite
    can rally and integrate the black poor, while the ANC
    implements policies which disproportionately affect
    black people. As people are becoming more restive
    and critical, the government is resorting again to
    repression - police firing on crowds and evictions of
    those who cannot afford to pay rents. Until recently it
    has almost been sacrilegious to question the ANC.

    What is the people's opinion of the ANC

    Dor: Public opinion has continued to be shaped by
    the ANC's historic role in ending apartheid, but people
    are becoming much less enthusiastic about voting for
    the ANC. In the December 5 municipal elections, many
    independent candidates in the townships are running
    on an anti-privatisation platform, or in defiance of the
    autocratic ANC approach to selecting councillors.

    One high profile example is Trevor Ngwame, an ANC
    councillor who was expelled over his opposition to
    the Johannesburg council's privatisation plans. His
    constituency in Soweto appealed to him to stand as
    an independent. He has produced an
    anti-privatisation platform to try to draw together
    other left independents around the country. In the
    Eastern Cape SANCO [South African National Civics
    Organisation] is running separately from the ANC.

    Bohmke: I'm predicting less than a 50% turn out in
    the municipal election. ANC branches are depleted.
    There is rising disaffection. Polls are showing little
    more than 50% support for the ANC in many regions.
    But there isn't another organisation that can capture
    the desires of people for more fundamental change

    Weekes: In the unions, people are still quite loyal to
    the ANC, but workers are seeing the contradictions
    more and more. In some areas, the ANC may still be
    the progressive choice. But whether it is the ANC or
    the Democratic Alliance [the alliance of New National
    Party and Democratic Party], there is not much
    difference in terms of policy.

    Vally: As people's dissatisfaction rises, there is also
    the danger that demagogues and petty bourgeois
    politicians who base their support on supposed ethnic
    or religious differences could gain ground in the
    absence of a left alternative.

                           McKinley: Large
                           sections of the white
                           community are moving
                           towards the ANC
                           because they realise
                           that it is the best way to
                           protect business
                           interests now. As far as
                           the majority is
                           concerned, support is
                           already haemorrhaging.

                           As long as the SACP
                           and COSATU [the
                           Congress of South
                           African Trade Unions]
    remain within the Tripartite Alliance, which is led by
    the ANC, people tend to still look towards the ANC.
    Smaller left parties pose no real competition yet. They
    aren't yet gathering the increasing dissatisfaction
    which is surfacing in community struggles. The task
    for the left is to harness that.

    What is your opinion of role of SACP and
    COSATU. Are they presenting an alternative?

    McKinley: Because of their historical links with the
    ANC, and expectations that things would move in a
    positive direction after 1994, COSATU and the SACP
    spent the first two years arguing that the RDP and
    other promises had to be implemented. When that
    didn't happen, they criticised the ANC. But it has
    always been reactive and never been linked to
    struggles on the ground to reverse the ANC
    government's rightward direction.

    In both organisations, there has been a domination of
    leadership, a growing gap between rank-and-file and
    leadership, and a policy of pleading with the ANC.
    The base structures have been demobilised and
    disempowered. The SACP is shrinking.

    In COSATU, you've had some strikes and stay-aways
    but they haven't been sustained and followed
    through. What has developed is rhetorical criticism
    and practical acquiescence. This isn't to say that the
    entire memberships of the SACP and COSATU have
    become useless. But they have become politically

    The leaderships have cracked down on criticism and
    blocked calls for mobilisation rather than trying to
    lead. The ANC has successfully managed its
    relationship with the SACP and COSATU to give the
    government left cover for its right-wing turns. This
    has prevented it from having to confront serious
    working-class resistance.

    Dor: Once you are bracketed in the Alliance, you're in
    a difficult position. It is argued that if you are in there
    then you can influence the ANC. In truth, it is the ANC
    which starts to influence you.

    The ANC utilises the Alliance when it needs it, like
    during elections. COSATU and the SACP drop
    everything to campaign, but the ANC will not
    reciprocate by even discussing alternatives to GEAR.

    COSATU and the SACP have retreated to discussing
    parts of GEAR rather than challenging the whole
    policy. At the most recent COSATU conference, there
    was a lot of criticism of GEAR from delegates. But the
    leadership has been sucked into the ANC framework
    and simply discusses the issues at the edges.
    COSATU and SACP have become a stepping stone
    to positions in government for leaders of those

    Vally: The COSATU bureaucracy is a stumbling
    block. They try their best to kill independent
    initiatives. If the COSATU leadership goes too far to
    the right then they lose support. It's a hard balancing
    act for them. They turn the tap on and off in terms of
    mass action - always keeping it tightly controlled as a
    one-day strike or one-off action. Cooption is a
    strong force due to high unemployment and
    generalised poverty.

    But working people want struggles to be led. In
    SAMWU and NUMSA [National Union of Metalworkers
    of South Africa], more radical leaderships prepared to
    run campaigns have won elections recently.

    Jara: The Alliance remains relevant. COSATU is an
    important social force. The role of the party is to
    contribute to the consolidation of working-class
    power through mass mobilisation. We are at our
    strongest and most popular. It's within this context
    that we launched our independent campaign against
    the banks and mobilised 40,000 people on October 1.
    We have hundreds of local government councillors, a
    hundred national MPs and Communists deployed in
    various sections of government. Not many CPs
    around the world have that sort of influence.

    GEAR is not a question of the ANC selling out. It is
    more a question of the fact that the forces in the
    Alliance are not the way that they should be in terms
    of working-class power. This contributes to the
    difficulty that comrades Jeff Radebe [minister of
    public enterprises] and Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi
    [minister of public service and administration] face as
    party members implementing ANC policy. Our
    constitution says that if members are deployed in
    mass organisations, they must accept the mandate
    and democracy of those organisations. However,
    there is some debate about where their first loyalty
    should be.

    Bohmke: The SACP is top-heavy with little
    grass-roots support. They are like a chimney. People
    sense a sell-out from the ANC. The house is
    beginning to fill up with smoke and people are
    choking. Then the CP comes in and talks left, makes
    veiled criticisms of the ANC, and funnels off the
    smoke. Then they'll propose an action, letting people
    vent their frustrations and then nothing comes of it.

    It will come in and hit imperialism, the World Bank, the
    banks - to deflect criticism from the ANC. The SACP
    talks left and acts right, and gives the ANC permission
    to act right. In defence of the sacred Alliance they will
    often say that criticism of the ANC contributes to the
    threat the white right-wing poses to the government.
    In reality, the white right-wing is totally isolated.
    There are a few unreconstructed rednecks, but most
    others have been accommodated or are in jail.

    To talk about COSATU as a monolithic entity is
    wrong. It is made up of affiliates, each with a
    leadership which makes itself a thorn in the side of the
    government and then gets bought off. Some even do
    it to the extent that it helps them to get a better
    position. Sam Shilowa [former general-secretary of
    COSATU and SACP central committee member] railed
    against GEAR. Now, he's ANC premier of Gauteng
    province and supports it. The shift of leadership into
    business or government is happening all the time.

    What is the state of the rest of the left?

    McKinley: Because of the historical domination of
    Alliance politics, it is almost as if the rest of the left
    have celebrated their marginalisation. In the last year,
    this has begun to change. The objective situation has
    provided more space for people on the left to expand
    their influence, hook up with local struggles and begin
    to work together. People struggling against evictions,
    water and electricity provision in urban and rural areas
    are beginning to identify neo-liberal policies as being

    The challenge for the left is to try to coordinate these
    struggles and from them develop an understanding of
    the need for some sort of national political alternative.
    What you have now is a better grounded left who
    have mostly not come out of the various small
    organisations, but have been working in unions or
    communities or on an intellectual front. There is not so
    much division in this left. It revolves more around
    practical struggles. I see a potentially bright future for
    a political alternative. It is going to take a long time to
    develop but it is beginning.

    The student movement is in crisis. The main student
    body SASCO [South African Student Congress] has
    been aligned to the ANC. This has undermined its
    ability to be a radical voice. The ANC Youth League
    has been a sycophantic ANC support group. This is
    just changing now. University privatisation and
    increased student fees are leading to struggles which
    have the potential to spark the movement. The
    SASCO branch at Wits University has just begun to
    debate the need for an explicitly socialist student
    movement, which has never existed here. So there is
    struggle and discussion.

    Dor: The Anti-Privatisation Forum in Johannesburg is
    an exciting development. It brings together struggles
    against the Johannesburg council's iGoli 2002 project
    of privatisation, the struggle against restructuring at
    Wits University, community struggles for the provision
    of water, housing and electricity. A similar thing is
    starting in Cape Town.

    In the Northern Province, the Movement for Delivery
    has begun to organise. We are also starting to
    organise as part of the global movement against
    neo-liberalism - on September 26 there were actions
    here in solidarity with the Prague protests against the
    World Bank and IMF.

    Debt is a big issue here. Why should we pay the
    apartheid debt? It's another way of getting into the
    debate about GEAR and alternatives.

    Vally: More people are beginning to understand the
    need for a new left, based on grass-roots work rather
    than a few people with a newspaper proclaiming
    themselves the vanguard. There are a whole range of

    Not only do we have a massive AIDS problem, but
    now there is an outbreak of cholera which makes a
    mockery of the ANC's water policy. The Treatment
    Action Campaign is campaigning against the
    government's policy of restricting AZT provision.
    Meanwhile, armaments costs have risen now to
    around 40 billion Rand and may go up to 60 billion.

    Jara: The SACP is the strongest left force in terms of
    size, organisation, history and influence. In addition to
    us, there are many socialists in the Alliance.
    Post-1990, we can no longer tolerate sectarianism.
    We need broad action, and not necessarily just by
    those who define themselves as socialists.

    Our solutions are the mobilisation of domestic capital
    resources to push forward transformation: utilising
    public resources (the government budget and
    state-run corporations), build and consolidate what
    we call "social capital" (cooperatives, union investment
    funds) and disciplining and directing financial capital.
    The focus should not be on foreign direct investment
    but domestic resources. We need mass mobilisation
    to effect this transformation.

    Bohmke: The left mobilise around demands for
    concrete action, rather than start with the demand to
    break the Alliance. Mobilising around real struggles
    creates tension in the Alliance.

    The ANC's support for neo-liberalism means not just
    not implementing its promises but attacking existing
    rights. The role of the left is to provide linkages
    between the spontaneous struggles which are
    occurring everywhere. You don't have the easy
    binaries of the old apartheid system but people are
    living in terrible conditions and they have to fight.

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